AGA IN ACTION
Kenyan authorities tackle increase in rabies
Kenya mounts effective One Health response by drawing on national and international expertise from animal health, public health
In early April, more than 7 500 dogs and cats were vaccinated in and around Lake Victoria’s port of Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, in response to a spike in rabies cases that have killed people, dogs and livestock. Kenyan authorities worked together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and FAO to address the outbreak and mobilize vaccine supplies, brought in from neighboring Tanzania thanks to partnerships with the Tanzania Carnivore Project, an NGO involved in conservation of Tanzania’s wild carnivore species.
The vaccination campaign was implemented over the Easter holiday, to take advantage of the school closing so children and their families could bring their pets to be vaccinated.
FAO made available a variety of awareness raising materials as well, aimed especially at schools and schoolchildren and their parents, so that communities learn about rabies, how to address a dog bite case immediately to prevent rabies in humans and how important it is to vaccinate dogs and cats to reduce the risk to humans.
Local radio stations broadcast information about rabies awareness, which led to an overwhelming response in terms of people seeking treatment and reporting dog bites. Support from the radio stations is expected to continue over the next three months. Mobile teams have vaccinated over 15 000 dogs and cats since the outbreaks began in January. Awareness-raising materials are focusing on responsible dog ownership, rabies prevention and post-exposure measures, also via posters, pocket cards, t-shirts and further media outreach.
The percentage of the dog population protected through vaccination is being measured to see if herd immunity of 70 percent has been reached, which minimizes the risk of further rabies spread among dogs. FAO has made some funding available for additional dog vaccinations if necessary and additional awareness raising support.
In late January, the Kenyan authorities were alerted to the suspicious deaths of two cows in Kisumu. A calf in the same vicinity that had suspected rabies was tested, and the results were positive. In February, several people were bitten by dogs in Rachuonyo, also on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. Several cows were also found to have died from rabies. In addition, some of the animals were consumed for food, which poses an important risk of exposure to rabies especially for those people involved in butchering the animal before cooking.
Meat and dairy destined for human consumption should always come from healthy animal sources.
“One has to realize that when a family’s one dairy cow has died, those families have lost their most important means of income, so as a result they become that much more vulnerable,” said Katinka de Balogh, FAO veterinary public health officer and focal point for rabies.
The recent vaccinations and awareness programs are an excellent example of the One Health approach, in which a cross-cutting team from veterinary health, public health and wildlife health combined energies to have a unified defense against a health threat that can easily persist if there are gaps when all these sectors aren’t linked.
Given the extent of collaboration and communication amongst the various sectors and disciplines within the animal and human health communities, well coordinated campaigns have been a great success in regards to vaccination rates and rabies awareness programs that aim to prevent dog bites and rabies in humans, companion animals and livestock.