RITM and Fumiya Sankai unfold latest updates on Japan, PH rabies project
(L-R) JICA Philippines Senior Program Officer Maan Bakisan, RITM Rabies Diagnostic Laboratory Head Dr. Catalino Demetria, Bureau of Animal Industry JAPOHR Focal Person Dr. Maria Glofezita Lagayan, and Japanese Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Saito Nobuo being interviewed by Japanese influencer Fumiya Sankai and RITM Molecular Biology Laboratory Head and rabies researcher Dr. Timothy John Dizon about the JAPOHR Project.

Japanese influencer Fumiya Sankai and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) Molecular Biology Laboratory (MBL) Head and Rabies researcher Dr. Timothy John Dizon explored updates on the ongoing Japan and Philippines One Health Rabies Project (JAPOHR) at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Philippines office in the latest episode of End Rabies with Fumiya on May 25, 2023.

Sankai and Dr. Dizon interviewed Chief Representative of JICA Philippines Sakamoto Takema and JAPOHR’s Core Team members about the Project’s current status and latest breakthroughs. Sakamoto explained that JICA is the biggest development partner of the Philippines and is committed to help address various multi-sectoral issues in the country, one of which being the JAPOHR Project to tackle the prevalent rabies situation in the country. The JAPOHR Project aims to foster partnership between Japanese and Filipino rabies control specialists to develop innovative solutions for rabies elimination in the Philippines.

(L-R) Chief Representative of JICA Philippines Sakamoto Takema explaining JICA’s initiatives in the Philippines to Fumiya Sankai and Dr. Timothy John Dizon.

“The rabies project is one of the JICA’s Cooperation Project[s]. Beforehand, Japan had a very difficult situation [on] rabies. But now, we are [implementing rabies] prevention and protection in Japan. And we are very happy to share expertise, experiences, [and] lessons learned with [our] Filipino friends,” said Sakamoto.

Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Animal Industry (DA-BAI) JAPOHR Focal Person Dr. Maria Glofezita Lagayan explained that there is an increase in rabies cases in the country from last year. This is attributed to low rabies vaccination coverage in dogs and prevalence of several free-roaming dogs in the Philippines, as explained by RITM Rabies Diagnostic Laboratory Head Dr. Catalino Demetria. Dr. Demetria also discussed that the best way to test for rabies is the conduct of direct fluorescent antibody test (dFAT), but DFAT laboratories in the country are scarce.

“[The dFAT process] is very labor intensive and it requires sophisticated [equipment], reagents, and you need [trained] staff to do the test. Currently, there are only (limited) dFAT laboratories in the Philippines serving the whole country…therefore, the JICA JAPOHR Project developed and implemented new (rabies) control measures,” said Dr. Demetria.

Another difficulty in rabies detection in the country is the lack of capable facilities testing for rabies. Oita University Professor and Japanese infectious disease specialist Dr. Saito Nobuo explained that only two (2) facilities in Manila can test rabies, and in Region 3, a sole facility is only processing rabies samples. In Bulacan, where rabies cases are prevalent, no facilities handle rabies testing. To address the situation, JAPOHR designed and developed a rapid test kit for rabies. In just 10 minutes, the said kit can already display results.

Rapid rabies diagnostic test kits developed through the JAPOHR Project.

Oita University Professor Akira Nishizono and (Japanese) pharmaceutical company ADTEC developed a rabies rapid test kit. This test is very easy to use, and we can test rabies [anywhere we may be]. The JAPOHR Project aims to introduce this Japanese technology to the Philippines, and we want to contribute [to the] elimination of rabies in the Philippines,” said Dr. Saito.

Dr. Saito added that the urgent detection of rabies in the community is important so that immediate government interventions may be implemented. Following the One Health approach, multi-agency collaboration becomes important to address rabies affecting animals, humans, and the environment.

Underscoring the importance of rapid rabies detection,the JAPOHR Project developed a mobile application for sharing of rabies information across various local governments. This application is known as the “Rabies Data Share System” which was co-developed with DA-BAI.

The interface of the Rabies Data Share System mobile application.

“[In] 2021, we have already rolled out the system to all the municipalities of the province of Bulacan. And they found that it’s very helpful in detecting rabies cases. Right now, we are currently rolling out the project to the rest of the local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines. We have already 57 LGUs, and at least 180 cases detected using the application and also the test kits,” said Dr. Lagayan on the status of implementation of rapid test kits and the mobile application in the country.

During the course of implementation of this project, it has been proven that the use of the rapid test kits as well as the One Health Approach was very effective in the early detection, treatment, as well as to prevent the further spread of rabies virus. So we do hope that in the future, more and more local government units will be able to use the methodologies that were introduced by JAPOHR,” added JICA Philippines Senior Program Officer Maan Bakisan.

The End Rabies with Fumiya video series is part of the rabies education initiatives of the JAPOHR Project under the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) scheme funded by JICA, and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED).

The series was launched in May 2022 through the JAPOHR YouTube channel and End Rabies with Fumiya Facebook Page. All past and future episodes may be watched here.

by Anel Azel Dimaano