FAO in Uganda

FAO, Government of Uganda commemorate World Rabies Day with calls for partnerships and investment to eliminate the disease

Makerere University Veterinary Medicine Fouth year students conduct surgery on dogs as part of World Rabies Day comemorative activities

Uganda joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Rabies Day in Arua District which is among the districts with high number of animal bites and prevalence of rabies.

The day was marked under the theme; Spread Facts, Not Fear, amidst several calls for increased awareness among communities to demystify myths and fears surrounding the disease. The day is observed annually across the globe since 2007 to raise rabies awareness and bring together partners to enhance prevention and control efforts worldwide.

Rabies is a fatal viral disease of all warm blooded animals including humans. It spreads through bites and scratches from infected animals and, 99% of human cases are from dogs. Some of its signs and symptoms in animals include: aggressive behavior, chewing on strange things such as rocks, dirt or wood, excessive drooling of saliva, fear of light, difficulty of breathing and swallowing, while in humans, the signs and symptoms include headache, fear of water, wind and exposure to sunlight, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, hearing strange voices and seeing strange things that do not exist, anxiety among others.


While speaking at the national commemoration event held at Vurra Subcounty in Arua, the Chief Veterinary Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Dr Anna Rose Ademun, represented by Dr Emmanuel Isingoma said that the disease is surrounded by a lot of false information that creates fear in the affected individuals and the general public.

“Rabies is 100% preventable but unfortunately, we still have people dying from the disease each year. This means that we are not doing enough to make the public aware that the disease is preventable. This calls for more efforts to sensitize communities,” she said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF) with technical support from FAO has developed a strategy to eliminate rabies in Uganda, but also to meet the global target to stop the death of humans as a result of dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

According to Dr Ademun, the strategy recognizes that for successful elimination of rabies, the human and animal health stakeholders must work in a harmonized way and share information through the One Health approach.

She revealed that mass vaccination of animals has been prioritized as a key activity towards meeting the target. As such, the ministry has planned to vaccinate 70% of the national dog population every year for the next five years to eliminate the deadly disease.

“When you eliminate rabies in dogs, you are sure of preventing the disease in humans. It is also about 10 times cheaper to vaccinate a dog than treating a person who has rabies (about 4000 shillings for vaccinating a dog compared to about 500,000 shillings for treating a single case of human rabies),”she noted.

Other planned activities include; mobilizing and working with various stakeholders to create awareness on rabies prevention, responsible dog and cat ownership and legislation on rabies, building diagnostic capacity across the country to improve the country’s capacity to diagnose rabies through strengthening laboratory infrastructure, provision of laboratory reagents and consumables and continuous human resource development,  strengthening the gathering and analyzing of data through improved surveillance and conducting various studies to fill the information gaps, and through the promotion partnerships and collaborations for efficient rabies control.


Dr. Charles Bebay, the FAO Regional Manager, for Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease (ECTAD), Eastern Africa said that rabies remains a big problem despite the availability of safe and affordable vaccines. He noted that the current global COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to misinformation and misconceptions about diseases, their spread, and vaccination in general. In many countries, COVID-19 vaccination efforts are hampered by hesitance to get oneself vaccinated.

“Fake news and fear can also negatively affect rabies elimination efforts. Facts are the only way to beat fake news. Fears, misconceptions, and misinformation about the disease and its prevention date back hundreds of years. For that reason, this year’s theme is focused on sharing facts about rabies, the benefits of the vaccination and not spreading fear about the disease through misinformation and myths,” he noted.


He emphasized the need for sharing facts about the benefits of vaccinating animals against rabies and ensuring that exposed people receive post-exposure prophylaxis, dispel myths about rabies vaccination to ensure that everyone is protected, and the disease is eliminated.

“The word “fear” in this year’s theme relates to the general fear caused by rabies, the fear people experience when encountering rabid animals, the fear people live with in communities plagued by rabies, the fear people may experience when infected with rabies, the fear of unhuman and horrifying death people infected with rabies may experience, and lastly, the fear caused by ‘fake news’ or myths about rabies – making people afraid of vaccination, or to get their animals sterilized or vaccinated, and making people turn to ineffective treatments for the disease,” he said.

While rabies is 100% preventable, more than 59,000 people die from the disease around the world each year.  Country records indicate that in Uganda 2015-16, over 16,000 human dog bites were recorded by the health ministry.

According to Ms Ewachabo Roselin Sandra, the Assistant CAO, Arua District, in 2021, the district so far has registered over 270 cases, 89 of whom are children under fourteen years, females 48, males 135, and deaths 6.

“Last year we had 182 males, 149 females, under fourteen 160 and 09 deaths in Arua district.  So, it’s good you are celebrating this day at the grassroots, the people have heard  from your direct mouth,” she said.

Facts about rabies

  • Not      all dog bites cause rabies, some are free from rabies BUT one should always seek medical attention  whenever bitten by an animal
  • Rabies      is not curable once humans or animals start to show the signs and symptoms
  • Any      animal affected by rabies including human beings can transmit rabies      through their saliva and/or bites
  • Most      (99%) of the human rabies case are from dog bites. Rabies is therefore      highly preventable in humans through effective vaccination of dogs and      cats
  • The      cost of treating a human rabies case is 10 times the cost of vaccinating      an animal
  • The      rabies vaccines for animals are available at the veterinary offices in the      districts
  • Human      anti-rabies vaccine is also available for humans

As part of the celebration activities, the MAAIF and partners conducted vaccination and spaying campaigns for dogs and cats, and radio talk shows.