Wednesday, June 24, 2015

UPDATED: Taboo Sri Lanka - Words of warning to unsuspecting Travelers, Visitors and Expats

Did you hear about a group of four foreign travelers who recently posed naked for photos on the top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia and who were subsequently arrested, jailed and fined for committing an obscene act? If you haven't, then check out this article or google it. Such incidents with travelers visiting sacred sites or foreign places seem to have become the ever-increasing norm. I recall a recent CNN article published in March of this year titled "Global laws you may not have realized you were breaking" that highlights how easy it is to run afoul of local laws when traveling abroad. Sri Lanka is on their checklist as being strict when it comes to respecting the Buddhist religion. This had me thinking about some of the recent incidents closer to home and the lack of awareness of what's taboo (or more importantly, illegal) in Sri Lanka.

Last year, one widely reported incident involved a British tourist who was deported from Sri Lanka for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm. There was another case a few years back where French tourists were jailed for having taken photos posing with Buddha statues that were deemed insulting and disrespectful to the Buddhists. There are also many others relating to various offenses of this nature. However, these are not the only things where you can find yourself either on the wrong side of the law, or thrown out of the country. And for this reason, it's probably essential to learn a few things about what are some of the things that are either illegal or taboo in Sri Lanka. As they say, forewarned is forearmed!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Rabies 101 Sri Lanka - Bitten or scratched by an animal, what should I do?

Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't had a brush with this fatal infectious disease other than responding to a recent email from a traveler seeking some information regarding treatment for rabies in Sri Lanka. So it was a bit of a shock to find myself sat in the emergency room at the hospital late one evening after my friend was attacked by a stray cat. And then the next day, to have accompanied my friend to the Anti-Rabies Vaccination Unit at Kalubowila Teaching Hospital ("KTH")  while he discussed the attack, the possibility of cutting off the cat's head and bringing it to the hospital (if it died), and then administered the injections for anti-rabies post exposure treatment eek

According to the World Health Organization ("WHO"), around 60,000 people die from rabies each year, and around 95% of those cases occur in African and Asian countries. Sri Lanka is still classed as high risk although it has reportedly cut rabies deaths by more than 90% in the past 40 years through an intensive anti-rabies campaign and increased awareness program. Some countries still advise their citizens to get the anti-rabies vaccination before departing for Sri Lanka for a long stint, or planning to work with animals while visiting the country, or if they are planning adventure travels that increase the risk of exposure to animals.

Did you know that still  around 20 to 30 deaths occur in Sri Lanka annually due to rabies? And these deaths in Sri Lanka are mainly caused by exposure to infected dogs. A recent estimate of the total dog population in Sri Lanka is something like three million dogs with the roaming or stray population accounting for 30% of this total (though I think this estimate of roaming dogs is actually higher!). For those of us living or traveling in Sri Lanka my question is, are we situated within a literal death trap given the numbers of roaming or stray dogs (and cats) throughout the island? Notwithstanding, there's also owned dogs and cats that may not have been vaccinated against rabies. However, I hasten to add the chances of a stray dog or cat biting or scratching you is low unless you actually engage or pester the animals.