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  • Writer's pictureSarah Beeching

Let's Stop Avoiding Rabies

World Rabies Day 2020

“We can only eliminate rabies in people if we do a better job of controlling it in dogs, and if we radically improve access to treatment and care - especially among the poor and marginalized groups who suffer the most from this horrible disease.”

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the connections between human, animal and environmental health. Over 75% of new human disease is zoonotic in origin. Tackling new spill overs and existing diseases that transmit from animals to humans, requires an effective One Health approach.

Rabies is an ancient disease, the earliest mention of death from dog bite can be traced to Mesopotamia in 2200BC. Today around 99 per cent of rabies cases in humans are caused by dog bites, the disease continues to kill one person every nine minutes - almost half of them children. It really is a disease of poverty, affecting the poorest in rural and marginalised areas who are unable to afford the high costs of post-exposure prophylaxis. It costs endemic countries $8.6bn a year in lost lives, lost livelihoods and high costs of treatment. And yet, rabies is completely preventable and can be eliminated in dogs through mass dog vaccination.

A new United Against Rabies Forum launched this week by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will bring together partners across government institutions, human and animal and environmental health sectors, the private sector, civil society as well as research and academia. It aims to increase understanding of what policy and research work is required and improve coordination, resource mobilisation, and information sharing between partners. Rabies control is seen as a ‘model’ disease to roll out a One Health approach and improve zoonotic disease control more broadly.

The key to success lies in coordinated investment in mass dog vaccination as a public health initiative alongside improved surveillance and data collection, community awareness raising and ensuring access to affordable rabies treatment for humans. Scientific research and field evidence show that mass dog vaccination campaigns that cover 70 per cent of the at-risk dog population can confer herd immunity against rabies and are the only real way to interrupt the disease’s infectious cycle between animals and humans.

In the history of humanity humans have only eradicated two diseases: smallpox in humans and Rinderpest in cattle. We are coming close to eliminating guinea worm and polio, but we aren’t there yet. We have the tools and the knowhow to consign human deaths from rabies to the history books. Let's stop avoiding rabies, it’s a cause worth fighting for, and an investment well made.


Rabies: One Health in Action, Partnering for Success

Watch the high-level ministerial programme on Rabies, One Health and the new United Against Rabies Forum, recorded 22 September 2020:


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