Israel’s rabies vaccination program for wild animals is in danger after the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry announced this week it had spent the allocated immunization budget on other projects. The move has been criticized by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
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The Finance Ministry said it gave the Agriculture Ministry funds to continue the program. However, the Agriculture Ministry said that since its budget for the year had been cut by 40 percent, additional ministries will have to help pay for the program.
The Agriculture Ministry’s Veterinary Services Unit, which operates the immunization program, announced Sunday that it was withdrawing funding. The person in charge of immunization informed providers of inoculation kits that, based on the ministry’s decision, they would not be purchasing kits this year. The dispersal of bait laced with the inoculation will also be halted.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, veterinary services – in collaboration with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority – have been trying to achieve oral immunization by aerial dispersal of rabies inoculation-laced bait. This is intended for wild animals such as foxes and jackals, which are known to be potential carriers of rabies. These animals now live close to urban areas, such as along the Yarkon River in the Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan areas.
The project started on an experiment basis in a small region 15 years ago. When it proved effective, it was expanded to all areas across the country. According to a veterinary services report, 350,000 inoculations were dispersed as bait last year throughout Israel. Ensuring that dispersal covers all areas is essential for the project’s success, since there is a constant infiltration of rabid animals from neighboring countries and areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Over the years, governments continued to approve budgets for the oral immunization program. In recent years, though, different departments failed to reach common ground to formulate further plans. Since 2013, the Agriculture Ministry has covered the annual 5-million-shekel ($1.3 million) cost. The immunization program should have already begun.
In recent weeks, officials at the Nature and Parks Authority and veterinary services have been pushing the agriculture and finance ministries for funding, but so far to no avail. A few weeks ago, INPA director general Shaul Goldstein appealed to Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, asking for his help to help procure funding for the immunization. The INPA is keen to maintain the program, in order to prevent the spread of rabies among wild animals.
Goldstein warned Ariel that “infiltration of wild rabid animals will not cease, and this will soon lead to an outbreak of the disease among a dense and unimmunized population of animals. The damage inflicted by an outbreak of rabies, the prevention of which is the Agriculture Ministry’s responsibility, and the expenses that will be required to quell it, far outweigh what is needed to sustain the project in its present form.”
The Finance Ministry said it understood the importance of the immunizations and continuation of the project, which was why “the treasury has approved the request made by the Agriculture Ministry. Funds have been transferred to veterinary services and it is under the Agriculture Ministry’s remit to determine priorities.”
However, the Agriculture Ministry said it had reallocated the budget to other areas. “According to the government’s decision on the issue, all relevant departments should support the oral immunization project, including the Health Ministry, Environmental Protection Ministry, Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, and Negev and Galilee Development Ministry. These ministries have not responded to our requests to share the costs.
“In recent years, the Agriculture Ministry shouldered the costs on its own. But since its budget was cut by 40 percent, the ministry is setting different priorities, such as supporting the rehabilitation of communities along the Gaza border and supporting farmers in the Arava region, in light of the collapse of farms there. This is why there was no budget left for the oral immunization against rabies project.”