Soi Dog Foundation enlists teachers & practitioners of traditional medicine in campaign
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam––Sixty-four human deaths from rabies in Vietnam during the first nine months of 2023, an increase of 21 from the first nine months of 2022, have sparked renewed efforts to eradicate the dog and cat meat traffic.
Medically recognized as a rabies vector in Vietnam since 2009, imports of dogs for human consumption were prohibited in 2014 through the lobbying efforts of the Thailand-based Soi Dog Foundation.
Human deaths from rabies in Vietnam thereafter leveled off at an average of 82 per year until 2023, when the total may go higher.
The northern region closest to China, where dog-eating is most common, had 25 human rabies deaths through September 2023, with 15 human deaths in the heavily populated south, 15 human deaths in the central highlands, where access to medical treatment is sparse, and nine deaths in the central lowlands.
Story of pediatric patients moves Viet public
Public attention to rabies increased in Vietnam after Saigon News reporter Quang Huy on October 2, 2023 described the suffering of two pediatric patients with rabies from Gia Lai and Dak Nong provinces.
The children, ages 8 and 13, arrived in Ho Chi Minh City with “encephalitis, severe brain damage, and life-threatening conditions,” Quang Hug wrote.
“Relatives said that the children had not previously told their families that they had been bitten by dogs,” Quang Huy recounted, but after the families discovered that the children had fevers, headaches, and wounds, with dead dogs near their homes, “they suspected that the children had been bitten by dogs and had rabies; hence, relatives took the two children to medical clinics for treatment.
“Currently, the two children escaped dangerous conditions and their health is stable,” Quang Huy finished.
However, if the two children already had encephalitis and severe brain damage upon arrival at the Ho Chi Minh City hospital, their chances of survival would have been poor, even if the Milwaukee Protocol was used.
Developed in 2004, the Milwaukee Protocol involves putting the rabies patient into an artificially induced coma while treating the rabid symptoms.
As of 2020, the Milwaukee Protocol had saved five out of 36 symptomatic patients, all of them between ages 7 and 15.
Ho Chi Minh City
The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee [city council] back on May 17, 2023 “issued an urgent document directing departments and People’s Committees of districts and Thu Duc City to strengthen urgent measures to prevent and control rabies in the area,” reported Outbreak News Today, after “statistics over the past five years across the country show that rabies has killed 410 people, and over 2.7 million people have had to receive preventive treatment.
The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee called for “ensuring access to human rabies vaccines, disseminating addresses of rabies vaccination points, and communicating instructions to guide people bitten by dogs and cats to medical facilities for timely preventive treatment,” Outbreak News Today said.
Further, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee asked the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development to escalate efforts to vaccinate dogs and cats against rabies, including “promoting information and propaganda work” about the need to vaccinate and about what to do if a person is bitten by a dog or cat.
Finally, communities were encouraged to establish animal control departments to apprehend “stray dogs,” which in Vietnam tends to include street dogs as well as owned dogs running at large.
Historically, dog-catching in Southeast Asia has been done chiefly by local entrepreneurs who receive only partial compensation from municipal governments, and realize most of their income from selling dogs to dog meat butchers or traffickers.
Much the same system prevailed in rural parts of the U.S. until late in the 20th century, except that U.S. dogcatchers working for profit sold dogs to laboratory animal suppliers.
Traditional medics denounce use of dog & cat meat
Today, according to Soi Dog Foundation marketing and press officer Amy Bryant, “Vietnam’s education sector and traditional medicine community are spearheading efforts to end the dog and cat meat trade.
“Just last month,” Bryant emailed to ANIMALS 24-7 on November 10, 2023, “leaders of the Vietnam Oriental Traditional Medicine Association [VOTMA], the official voice of traditional medicine practitioners, categorically denounced the use of dog and cat meat in traditional medicine.”
On November 10, 2023, Bryant said, the Ha Nam Traditional Medicine Association, a VOTMA member, “followed suit at a workshop in the northern province, pledging to cease using dog and cat meat in their practices and to educate their peers and patients that there is no scientific evidence of its claimed medicinal qualities.
“The workshop,” Bryant said, “led by animal welfare organization Soi Dog International Foundation and social behavior change agency Intelligentmedia, included open discussion about the dog and cat meat trade, and expert coaching to equip Ha Nam’s traditional medicine practitioners with the knowledge and tools to discourage the use of dog and cat meat among their patients.”
Also, Bryant wrote, “In a separate but complementary initiative in Hanoi,” the Vietnamese capital city, “on November 3, 2023 teachers from more than 30 secondary schools joined together to discuss ways to educate the next generation about the ethical and health implications of the dog and cat meat trade and inspire them to effect change.
“The event centered on animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, as well as rabies prevention,” Bryant said.
Soi Dog took issue to the Vietnamese National Assembly
Estimating that as many as five million dogs and one million cats per year are killed for human consumption in Vietnam each year, the Soi Dog Foundation in July 2023 “participated in a roundtable discussion with [members of] the Vietnamese National Assembly “to discuss a roadmap for ending the trade, starting with Hanoi,” Bryant added.
“It was the first time,” Bryant said, “that the trade and consumption of dogs and cats had been deliberated upon at this level of government.”
The Soi Dog Foundation has since 2013 housed and provided veterinary care for more than 16,400 dogs impounded from dog meat dealers and traffickers, chiefly in Thailand, where the dog meat trade is illegal but where dealers formerly exported dogs for human consumption in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and China.
Humane Society International shuts down dealer
Bryant sent the Soi Dog Foundation media release about rabies control efforts in Vietnam three days after Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block posted that the HSUS subsidiary Humane Society International had bought out and shut down a major Vietnamese dog meat dealer, who over the past seven years had “bought, sold, and slaughtered as many as 20,000 dogs.
The Vietnamese dealer, the 18th dog meat dealer that Humane Society International claims to have put out of business in the past decade, mostly in South Korea, turned over to HSI 44 caged dogs who will now be rehabilitated for adoption.
The Humane Society International campaign began under Block, who headed Humane Society International before her 2018 promotion to the Humane Society of the U.S. presidency.