Groups unveil plan to rid rabies, target dog vaccination

Rabies vaccination
Rabies vaccination

US-supported rabies vaccination in Uganda., US Mission Uganda

Global animal and human health groups today unveiled a framework for eliminating rabies in humans by 2030, calling for donor support for the efforts and more visibility for a disease that kills tens of thousands each year, a large portion of them children.

The plan's release coincides with the first global conference of its kind bringing the rabies animal and human health sectors together. The 2-day meeting began today in Geneva and was expected to draw 300 participants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Three key actions contained in the framework are making human vaccines and antibody treatments more affordable, ensuring that those who are bitten get prompt treatment, and implementing mass dog vaccinations to tamp down the disease at its source, according to a press release today from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Elimination seen as feasible

At a media briefing today, Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, the WHO's director-general, said rabies is among the world's deadliest diseases, and that remote areas of Asia and Africa bear the biggest burden. She said rabies deaths are horrific and painful. "Rabies belongs in the history books," she said.

Dog bites are thought to cause 99% of all human rabies cases, and health groups project that vaccinating 70% of dogs in areas where the disease is endemic can bring human cases down to zero.

She said projects in different countries such as Bangladesh, Tanzania, and South Africa show that efforts to drive down the disease are feasible, possible, and affordable. Chan noted that the cost to vaccinate a dog is about $1, a fraction of the $40 to $50 that it costs to vaccinate a person bitten by a potentially rabid dog.

In the OIE statement, its director-general, Bernard Vallat, DVM, PhD, said eliminating canine rabies is most cost-effective and the only long-term solution. He added that the measure needs to be combined with responsible pet ownership, stray dog management strategies that comply with OIE standards, and bite management that adheres to WHO protocols.

Building political will

"We have all the tools to do the job, but the job is not done," he said at today's briefing. "We need the political will and the donors, and the donors need to be convinced that this is a priority."

Dirk Engels, MD, PhD, director of the WHO's department of neglected tropical diseases, told reporters at the briefing that in the past, it was considered impossible to vaccinate 70% of the dog population. He said health officials, however, have proven that the goal can be reached, enough to limit transmission in people, even in low-resource countries.

Health officials said today that it's difficult to put a price tag on the cost of implementing the framework, because costs vary by region. Vallat added that it's crucial to involve local communities, because they know who owns dogs and can ensure that vaccination campaigns are done effectively.

Other steps

At the more global level, officials are discussing ways to lower the cost of human rabies vaccines and treatments and ensure that they are accessible to remote areas.

According to the OIE statement, conference participants will also be building support for community awareness about rabies, improved surveillance, and education of children about how to avoid dog bites.

See also:

Dec 10 OIE press release

WHO background on rabies conference

Dec 10 WHO media briefing audio file

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