Rabies is a neglected disease that continues to blight the poorest communities in the world and pitch people against dogs, to everyone’s detriment. Rabies can be – and is – well controlled in some countries but is 'some' enough? Quite frankly no, not if the solution to the problem exists.
It's now time to make rabies elimination a reality everywhere, writes Deborah Briggs on behalf of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.
In many developed countries rabies is a forgotten disease, a far-off, long ago threat that had something to do with 'mad dogs and foaming at the mouth'. But in many developing countries in Africa and Asia that threat is real and daily, and terrifying.
How many people and dogs die from rabies each year?
Of the estimated 70,000 people who die every year, 95% are in Asia and Africa. More than eight in ten of those deaths are among the poorer rural communities with the least access to the knowledge and vaccines that could protect them, and around four in ten whose life is cut short are children.
Although across Asia an estimated 12 million life-saving rabies vaccines are given each year, the continent is still burdened with over half of the human and two thirds of livestock deaths due to rabies in the world.
Within Asia, India has the largest number of human rabies deaths in the world. Africa carries almost all of the rest of the human and livestock burden, and rabies outbreaks are affecting wildlife populations too, decimating the endangered Ethiopian wolf amongst others.
However, these are countries facing many problems, and dog population management and rabies control rarely make the agenda. Where rabies thrives, communities view dogs with, at best, suspicion and it doesn’t take long for the fear that accompanies an outbreak to spiral into gruesome dog culls in futile attempts to curb the problem.
Around the world approximately 20 million dogs suffer horrific deaths in the name of rabies prevention every year. That's over 50,000 dogs a day. World experts agree that dog culls do nothing to stop the infection rate in people and the mass killing of dogs has even been known to exacerbate rabies, in fact the act itself drives people to move or hide their beloved dogs that may already be infected with the disease, in order to protect them.
Education & Prevention
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Education is key to helping bring an end to this global problem.
We know rabies is preventable and dogs don't need to be destroyed to take preventative measures and keep the population safe. By vaccinating dogs regularly, rabies can be effectively controlled, protecting man and his best friend. Vaccinated dogs can even act as a protective barrier between their communities and un-vaccinated dogs and wildlife.
To help spread the word and raise awareness The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) works with partners, governments, scientists and affected communities in the hope of ending rabies in all corners of the globe.