Rabies and One Health: Africa strives to halt dog-mediated human deaths by 2030
“The rabies situation in Banian is worrying and constitutes a real public health problem” said Dr. Alpha Oumar Barry, animal health consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Guinea, referring to the two cases of confirmed dog rabies, 19 reported dog bites to humans and nine dog-eaten animals in the Banian sub-prefecture, located in east-central Guinea, from January to February 2022.
In Banian, the problem of rabies is no exception, and bites from stray dogs are generally the primary factor. Yet, this disease is little or poorly known by the rural population (neglect of bite cases, non-reporting of bites to the relevant services, etc.). Rabies in this sub-prefecture has always been a concern for the government, particularly the technical services of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Public Health and development partners.
Rabies is caused by a virus that affects the nervous system, a disease that mainly affects children, easily vulnerable due to contact with pet animals.
Although entirely preventable, dog-transmitted human rabies kills tens of thousands of people every year, particularly in rural and poor areas of Africa and Asia. It takes motivation, commitment and resources to effectively control rabies in parts of the world where the disease continues to impose a heavy burden.
In view of the risk of exposure to rabies for those bitten, the Ministry of Livestock of Guinea, in collaboration with partners such as the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD), the National One Health Platform, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) and Breakthrough Action (BA) developed a dog vaccination and response plan. Over 2 500 dogs were vaccinated and de-wormed on 9 May 2022 in Banian sub-prefecture thanks to the commitment of dog owners, local authorities, the One Health Platform and vaccination teams. This activity was preceded by a month of awareness raising messages on appropriate behaviour to prevent rabies were broadcasted.
The vaccination campaign not only highlighted the effectiveness of the One Health approach in the fight against zoonotic diseases, but also made dog owners aware of the benefits of pet vaccination.
Rabies remains a serious global health problem in more than 150 countries around the world. In May 2022, reports of a suspected rabies human case prompted a joint United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), Provincial Health Services (SPS) and Provincial Health Directorate (DPS) and Provincial Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DPAP) collaboration on the other side of the African continent, in Mozambique.
A joint risk surveillance mission carried out in Cabo Delgado province, the northernmost province of Mozambique, concluded that the rabies situation was of concern, with more than eight suspected cases of human rabies infection since August 2021.
Dr. Ramalho Lourenço Manuel, Head of Department of the Provincial Veterinary Services of Cabo Delgado affirmed that “as a government we cannot allow lives to be lost” because of rabies. “Everything is being done to make communities aware of the importance of vaccinating domestic animals to avoid rabies”, he added.
With financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), FAO ECTAD, DPAP, SPS/DPS and WHO conducted a public awareness campaign on the risks and dangers of living with unvaccinated dogs through two community radio stations and a rabies vaccination campaign in Mueda and Chiure districts, from 27 June to 4 July 2022 and 5 to 8 September 2022, which covered the vaccination of 711 dogs out of 792 corresponding to 90 percent coverage in Chiure and 483 dogs out of a total of 795, corresponding to 61 percent of the total estimated by the District Services of Economic Activities (SDAE) in Mueda.
Joint FAO, WHO and government assessments as well as a One Health planning for response proved cost-effective with logistics for transportation being provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) through the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services.
Animal outreach service providers in the district are ready to finalise the vaccination, but it is essential that partners make a collective effort to ensure vaccination of the remaining 10 percent and 39 percent of dogs in Chiure and Mueda respectively.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FAO Regional Office for Africa.