Resilience
Dog vaccination campaign against rabies in Uganda on World Rabies Day 2021. ©FAO

Using facts not fear to eliminate rabies in Africa

19/10/2021

On World Rabies Day, FAO and its partners demonstrate that preventing disease in animals is also one of the most effective measures to protect human health and the environment.

Each year, rabies kills approximately 60 000 people, 99 percent of whom are infected by dogs. In Africa, rabies is recognized as an endemic disease in most countries, with the possibility of outbreaks in urban areas. Although the exact situation is not fully known, due to persistent underreporting, this disease has been identified as a major concern by the countries in the region and by their technical and financial partners.

For World Rabies Day on 28 September 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), together with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO), highlighted the significant impact that rabies has on life and livelihoods. 

While last year’s World Rabies Day focused on vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised doubts, misconceptions and misinformation about diseases, their spread and vaccination in general. This year, with the theme “Rabies: Facts, not Fear,” elimination efforts focused on dispelling myths and misconceptions about this 99 percent fatal, yet 100 percent preventable disease.

Facts are essential for raising awareness, preventing rabies cases, getting the animal population vaccinated, and educating people about the dangers of rabies and how to prevent it. 

Rabies is an infectious, virulent disease, usually inoculated by a bite, and after a long incubation period is accompanied by encephalomyelitis – inflammation of the brain and spinal cord – often with signs of excitement, aggression or paralysis, and then death. 

However, death from rabies is entirely preventable. Marking World Rabies Day in Uganda, the Regional Manager for FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Eastern Africa, Charles Bebay, declared: “Sharing facts about the benefits of vaccinating animals against rabies and ensuring that exposed people get post exposure prophylaxis, we can dispel myths about rabies vaccination to ensure that everyone is protected and this fatal animal disease eliminated.” 

 

FAO in Uganda has celebrated World Rabies Day 2021 the presence of FAO ECTAD Eastern Africa Manager, Charles Bebay. ©FAO

 

FAO ECTAD supports African governments to prioritize and increase resources for dog population management, vaccination and the provision of post exposure prophylaxis for those bitten by dogs. During a high-level meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) specialized technical committee on food and agriculture on 27 September 2021, ministers adopted a strategy for the eradication of dog transmitted rabies by 2030. “Eliminating rabies is within reach provided commitment at political and technical levels,” commented Dr. Baba Soumaré, Regional Manager for FAO ECTAD in West and Central Africa. “FAO, through ECTAD, has played a key role over the past years (…) among populations to defeat rabies.”

In many African countries, based on experience and the development of good practice, the cost of vaccinating dogs has fallen to less than 2 USD per dog. This makes eliminating canine rabies at source the most cost effective way to eliminate the disease. This World Rabies Day, FAO Rwanda supported the National One Health Platform to launch a rabies vaccination campaign, in the presence of FAO Country Representative Dr. Otto Vianney Muhinda. More than 200 dogs were vaccinated, and dog owners were shown practical skills for immediate rabies case management.

 

FAO in Sierra Leone vaccinating dogs to fight rabies. ©FAO 

 

At the World Rabies Day ceremony in Guinea, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mamady Condé, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to implement an integrated national plan that aims to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies by 2030 under a One Health approach, which ensures that specialists in multiple sectors work together to tackle health threats to animals, humans, plants and the environment.

 

FAO in Guinea SG for Agriculture announces government’s commitment to fight rabies. ©FAO

 

In South Sudan, rabies remains a major public health issue. In August 2021, through a project funded by the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund, FAO vaccinated 2.5 million animals against several deadly animal diseases, including rabies, hemorrhagic septicemia, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and anthrax. The campaign sought to protect the livelihoods of 300 000 people in six counties facing catastrophic or famine likely levels of food insecurity.

Out of the 19 African countries where FAO ECTAD works, eleven in West and Central Africa and four in Eastern Africa have operational national rabies strategies. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was the latest country to validate its strategy, and on the occasion of World Rabies Day, the strategy was presented by FAO Representative Aristide Ongone Obame to the Deputy Minister of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education, Aminata Namasiya Bazego, and to the delegates of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), WHO and other partners.

 

World Rabies Day 2021 celebrations in South Sudan. ©FAO

 

Although the road to elimination is still long, good progress is being made in Africa, and the Tripartite One Health for Africa Regional Coordinating Group is further supporting Africa wide rabies elimination programmes and coordination with other important partners, including FAO, the African Union and regional economic communities. 

FAO, with its partners WHO, the OIE and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), has developed an extensive action plan to reach zero human deaths from canine rabies by 2030 that covers policies, human and animal interventions, awareness raising and promotion, capacity building, and the respective resources needed to eliminate the disease in all countries still suffering from this lethal disease.

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