The Timor-Leste government and partners are developing a prevention plan to respond to rabies in the case of an outbreak.

Government and partners are developing a prevention plan to respond to rabies in the case of an outbreak.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s General Director of Livestock and Veterinary Medicine, Antonio do Carmo, said although there had not yet been any reported cases of rabies in Timor-Leste, there was a significant risk due to high cross-border movements.

The plan focuses on prevention in terms of controls in border areas and a strategy should there be an outbreak.

“Our overseas movements are high so it’s possible we could be affected by this disease, [but] now we are still free [of the disease],” he said.

He said it was a dangerous disease because humans could be infected through the bite of an infected animal, but there were often no initial symptoms.

In 2004, he said the government instructed the National Directorate of Quarantine and Bio-Security to ban animal imports to the country.

He also expressed concern that the disease had spread in some areas in neighbouring Indonesia and therefore an integrated plan was needed to control border areas of the country.

Data from the World Animal Health Organization and World Health Organization (WHO) shows that over 50,000 people die annually as a result of rabies, equivalent to nearly one death every five minutes.

The rabies virus belongs to the rhabdoviridae family and is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, including dogs, cats and monkeys.

The Ministry of Health’s General Director of the Department of Health Achievement, Odete Viegas, urged the relevant ministries to discuss the policy and integrated prevention plan.

She also called on Health Ministry personnel stationed at the ports to strengthen controls.

“It is very important for the relevant ministries to work together as animals are often imported in containers that can spread disease,” she said.

She said the government was also cooperating with Indonesia to improve controls in the border areas between the two countries.

She said 65% of all diseases were spread from animals and therefore it was important that communities were well informed.

In 2006, the government has established a team to control border movements, consisting of representatives from the ministries of Agriculture, Education, Interior and Finance, including the Customs directorate, but it had not been effective due to a lack of coordination.