UNITED AGAINST RABIES
FAO supports World Rabies Day in promoting rabies prevention and saving lives and livelihoods
Rabies is a deadly viral disease which affects mammals and humans and once symptoms appear, it is usually 100% fatal. It spreads via infected saliva mainly through animal bites or scratches and attacks the nervous system. Rabies is increasing in many developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, and yet most rabies deaths can be prevented through simple measures (see the box below).
What to do when bitten by an animal?
- Immediately run water on the wound for a good 15 minutes after washing it thoroughly with soap or hydrogen peroxide.
This will remove as much saliva (hence virus) as possible from the wound and will greatly decrease chances of infection (do not clean the wound with alcohol)
- Seek medical treatment or go to hospital without delay for appropriate medical attention and post-exposure vaccination if required
- Any suspected rabid animal should be confined and put under veterinary observation according to the country’s legislation
In addition to the threat to human life, when livestock die from rabies, a household loses an important asset for farming and transportation, a generator of cash income, a source of quality food providing protein and vital micro-nutrients, and a safety net to be sold for income or consumed in times of crisis. Thus, the threat to livelihoods and food security is increased.
Livestock can provide a pathway out of poverty for smallholders and low-income actors in livestock value chains, thus prevention and control of awareness of rabies contributes to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular MDG1: by protecting livestock and minimizing the impact of disease upon the livelihoods and food security of poor households, and thereby addressing extreme poverty and hunger; and MDG6: in helping countries to combat disease, including zoonotic and high-impact animal diseases.
Outbreaks of rabies can be an indication of deficient veterinary infrastructure, such as a lack of human and/or financial resources. Thus, FAO works with national authorities in enhancing disease intelligence, surveillance and emergency response systems; developing the infrastructure and technical capacity of veterinary/animal health services; and strengthening support for community-level animal health services.
FAO also supports grassroots activities, such as Animal Health Clubs in Sierra Leone, which combat rabies to protect livelihoods and lives. The clubs provide training for teachers and students on prevention and control of zoonotic diseases, improving animal husbandry practices, and general health education including nutrition, sanitation and environmental hygiene. Students then share information with their families, friends and neighbours and mobilize them to take action to prevent rabies and other diseases. So far, 80 schools have set up their own Animal Health Clubs and more are being created each month.
Njala University student Saidu Bamayange, aged 28, from Mokonde, says: “I heard about rabies on World Rabies Day in 2009, and also on the radio. It’s a big problem in Sierra Leone, as many people have died from rabies, and livelihoods have been destroyed. I wanted to do something about it – to help protect my family and my community against rabies, so I joined the Animal Health Club at my university. We do awareness raising on rabies through drama, music, radio discussion programmes, and community surveys. We teach people how to control and manage their animals, in particular dogs, and the environment in which they live. We also tell them how to treat dog bites.”
Animal diseases such as rabies have a major impact upon livelihoods and food security, and threaten public health; therefore a continued commitment and sufficient resources are essential to minimize this threat. FAO is committed to encouraging and supporting the Animal Health Club initiative and other rabies prevention and control activities.