Toronto: July 17, 2018: The commitment of the Ford Government to do a line-by-line audit of government spending should start with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry (MNRF) Rabies Program.
“The Rabies Unit has been in operation for almost 30 years with little oversight and no public evaluation of its cost versus benefit,” said Donna DuBreuil, President, Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre and Spokesperson, Ontario Wildlife Coalition.
Ontario’s rabies program is the most expensive in North America. “A small but determined group of wildlife managers have made rabies a thriving ‘industry’ despite its virtual non-risk in North America, due to wide-spread pet vaccination,” said Liz White, Director, Animal Alliance of Canada and spokesperson, Ontario Wildlife Coalition.
As for human risk, although there have been tens of thousands of positive tested animals in North America in the last 50 years, there has been only one human death due to raccoon rabies. To put that single death over 50 years in perspective, there are annually in North America up to 15 human deaths from dog bites; 20-40 from lightning strikes; and, on average, 100 from bee and wasp stings.
An article by CBC reporter Adam Carter, on May 1, 2018, when asking why Ontario’s rabies program costs six times more annually than that of New York State, a professor at the University of Guelph said it’s difficult to compare Ontario with New York State, as the public health system in the U.S. “isn’t exactly flush with cash”. There isn’t a more telling statement as to why an audit of rabies spending in Ontario is essential. Yet, the MNRF has been able to obtain Exemption Orders that block public accountability.
In the CBC article, MNRF spokesperson, Jolanta Kowalski, attempts to justify the spending by saying “if no control actions were taken, it is predicted that rabies would have spread beyond Toronto and London by the end of 2017, and past Barrie, Peterborough and Chatham by the end of 2018”.
This statement is unsupported by the facts. In the Ministry’s own document, The Rabies Reporter, Volume 28, Issue 1 January – June 2017, an article on “Post-baiting serology program” measures the success of the baiting program to determine what proportion of the raccoon and skunk populations have been successfully vaccinated. The report states “while capture success was high in both trapping seasons, however, the portion of the population that were successfully vaccinated was relatively low. Of the 654 raccoons captured in spring, only 19% had rabies antibodies. Seroprevalence in skunks was even lower (4%). In the fall trapping season only 15% of the 184 raccoons captured and 17% of the 47 skunks were antibody positive”. How can the expensive baiting program be justified on such poor results?
No one is suggesting doing nothing about rabies. Rather, cost-effective prevention programs such as the requirement for pet vaccinations and public education along with testing those animals where there is a justified concern of human risk is the reasonable and economically-responsible approach.
“The millions of dollars wasted annually on unwarranted rabies spending should be redirected to health care where it will save lives as well as improve the quality of life for patients and their caregivers”, said Liz White.