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Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease (ECTAD) - Viet Nam

Traditional Healers – A key player in One Health Rabies Eradication


02/03/2016

Rabies is a zoonotic disease that has long impacted human and animals with increasing incidence for the last ten years in Viet Nam. The Ministry of Health recorded about 400,000 people seek for rabies vaccine due to dog bites per year indicating a significant risk to the country. Not to mention the fact that a significant proportion of people bitten by dogs seek treatment from traditional healers instead of health centres.

In Viet Nam, most of the traditional healers inherited their family businesses and learned the healing skills and knowledges from their previous generations. As these traditional family businesses have been close with the community for such a long time, the healers have gained trust and respect from  local people. Also, the affordable treatment cost compared to modern medicine is one of the factors for local people to continuously use their service.  Unfortunately, not all traditional healers understand the concept of immunization and infectious diseases prevention. In provinces with high incidence of rabies like Yen Bai and Thai Nguyen, there were human death cases from rabies due to following wrong advices and treatment by local healers. Traditional healers, however, are often neglected and left out from rabies prevention and control plans.

Realizing this significant gap, FAO Viet Nam’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease (ECTAD), in partnership with Department of Animal Health within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), General Department of Preventive Medicine within the Ministry of Health (MOH), has implemented an outreach communication initiative to engage and educate traditional healers on rabies preventives measures in both animals and human. The initiative was piloted in Phu Tho and Thai Nguyen provinces.

“We have realized that traditional healers are an important and fundamental element in rabies prevention and control efforts thanks to their regular contact with vulnerable communities. Our goal is not only to educate them of proper wound washing and vaccines for dogs and human but also to encourage them to become communicators who are able to further educate the local people. In the spirit of One Health approach, FAO believes traditional healers can make their contribution to rabies eradication once they better participate” said Dr Scott Newman, Senior Technical Coordinator of ECTAD, FAO Viet Nam.

The initiative was in line with the National Progamme on Rabies Prevention and Control 2010-2015 which was highly appreciated by the local healers and the provincial partners. From this initiative, FAO, MARD and MOH were able to extend their communication activity to the traditional healers, enabling them to learn about rabies and the importance of dog vaccination in controlling the disease in dogs and humans.

“Today, we have a better understanding on rabies treatment and are convinced that the only way to treat human rabies is to use vaccine and serum, not our herbs. Also realizing that dog rabies is the cause for human rabies, vaccinating dogs in the first place would be the best way stopping human transmission. I will share the learning with other healers as well as my patients” said Nguyen Thanh Hong, traditional healer from Yen Lap district, Phu Tho province.

“I never knew that wound caused by dog bites should be washed and left open as I normally bandage it with my herbs. This new knowledge is very helpful” said Hoang Van Nga, traditional healer from Dong Hy district, Thai Nguyen province.

The behavior change communication and training activities for traditional healers was one of the initiatives that FAO ECTAD has been supporting MARD and MOH. The programme aims to decrease the number of human rabies deaths by increasing the dog vaccination coverage and engaging multi-sectoral partners to move towards rabies free future in Viet Nam.