The Great Adventure for Rabies Control

Dane Medina is a Communication Officer for GARC based in the Philippines. She supports the GARC Global Communication Team and GARC's communications in the Philippines. She was recently assigned to support the communication needs of the rabies elimination program in Nias Island, Indonesia. Here she talks about her visit to the project site.

One of the advantages of being in “Team Nias” is that I get to explore the different project areas. Just last May 16 to 22, Dr. Sarah Jayme (GARC Philippines Country Representative) and I travelled to Nias to meet with the partners and present updates on the Communities Against Rabies Exposure Project in Nias as well as plan for pipeline activities.

Fakhri our ever-smiling GARC Field Veterinarian in Indonesia was there to meet us at the airport when we touched down in Nias on a rainy Sunday afternoon, after three plane rides and a whole weekend of traveling. 

Nias is the largest of the islands in Western Sumatra and home to more than 750,000 people and an estimated dog population of 50,000. Best known as a surfing destination, it was previously a ‘rabies-free’ island until a reported outbreak in 2010 that claimed 26 lives by the end of the year.  

We had an early start on the second day. Before heading out, we made a quick stop to Fakhri’s rented apartment, which was about 20 minutes away from where we were staying, to get the vaccines and other materials. It’s a modest, two-room apartment which serves both as his living quarters and the GARC headquarters in Nias.

Of all the equipment in the house, the one that got my attention was Fakhri’s life vest which he uses when he has to travel by sea to vaccinate dogs or monitor the vaccination coverage. Fakhri shared that sometimes he has to travel four to five hours by boat just to reach an island for a vaccination activity.  

I rarely get to join the vaccination activities in our other project sites so I was thrilled that for the next two days I’d be able to observe how they do it in Nias. It was a bit unnerving to document the trip while on a motorcycle (the most common form of transportation in the Island) but it was all part of the adventure, or the Great Adventure for Rabies Control, as Fakhri puts it. 

From travelling 10 km of rough roads by motorcycle to trekking mountainous paths, the vaccination activity was undeniably the highlight of our trip. I was able to see first-hand the lengths that the vaccinators go to reach far-off villages and ensure that the dogs in the Island are safe and vaccinated against rabies. These volunteer vaccinators, who were trained last year, come from all walks of life. To date, 226 volunteer vaccinators and 68 post-vaccination surveyors have been trained.

Sometimes villagers are wary of vaccination activities so it helped that the village leaders came with us during the vaccination. Some families had two dogs while some even had a “family” which included few puppies. I was also amused at seeing children closely observing their pets while in the capable hands of the vaccinators. 

One of the difficulties during the vaccination activity was keeping the vaccines cold and viable for the whole day. The team were amazingly resourceful. Though they didn’t have enough cold packs for the vaccine carriers, they still managed to keep the vaccines viable by using makeshift ice packs.  


On the last day, I joined Fakhri for an Information Education Communication (IEC) activity in one of the sub-districts attended by village chiefs and officials of the village health center. The video he showed before the lecture was produced by the Department of Health in the Philippines and translated into Bahasa, the official language of Indonesia. Even though I am familiar with rabies, it was still heart-wrenching to watch the video and realize that those people could have been saved if only they had been educated about rabies and received proper treatment.    

Our brief stay in Nias was an eye-opener in many aspects. While it’s always invigorating to be in the field and be part of the action, it has also helped me put things in perspective and made me reflect on my role as a Communication Officer. Seeing the actual situation and dedication of the team serves as a challenge as to how I can effectively carry out my responsibility in this great adventure to eliminate rabies in Nias Island.           

The CARE (Communities Against Rabies Exposure) Project in Nias Island is supported by the UBS Optimus Foundation and World Animal Protection in collaboration with the national government of Indonesia (Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services- Directorate for Animal Health) and the North Sumatra Province (Provincial Livestock and Animal Health Services Offices). In 2014, the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) provided 50,000 doses of anti-rabies vaccines for animals while the national government of Indonesia supports the provision of vaccines in 2015.