Zero human deaths from rabies must mean zero dog deaths too

26 September 2018

The UN wants the world to reach a target of zero human deaths from rabies by 2030. The only way to effectively achieve zero human deaths is to achieve zero dog deaths within the same time scale. This is done by vaccinating dogs and promoting responsible ownership.

Rabies, carried mostly in infected dogs’ saliva, has a more than a 95% death rate and is responsible for 59,000 reported human deaths annually. Over 95% of these deaths are caused by dog bites. 

But the global task of eliminating rabies extends far beyond reducing reported death figures, explains Pankaj KC our director of animals in communities.

“The unreported human death toll from rabies is likely to be thousands more. This is because rabies primarily affects poor rural areas where is little or no education about the disease and few medical resources to diagnose or treat it.”

The virus runs unchecked in many dog populations around the world. It can result in community fear and aggressive behaviour to both free-roaming and pet dogs suspected of harbouring the disease. Such fear sometimes leads to cruel and unnecessary culling.

“There are no global figures on dog deaths from both rabies and rabies-induced culls, but we estimate that up to 10 million dog lives are lost every year. This is primarily through misguided attempts to stop the spread of rabies,” says KC.

Controlling rabies spread

During rabies outbreaks community dogs can be killed by both governments and individuals attempting to control rabies’ spread. Yet, dogs are critical in tackling the disease and central to helping the world meet its 2030 target agreed by UN member states in 2015.

KC explains: “If we really want to eliminate rabies by 2030 we have to focus on dogs. We cannot eliminate rabies any other way. And this is the core message we are bringing to the global discourse and proven in the projects we run.”

The global campaign to eliminate human rabies by 2030 is led by the United Against Rabies collaboration. Members of the collaboration include the World Health Organisation; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. 

“Their focus is very much on eliminating human deaths. But eliminating human deaths alone is not the most effective approach. Of course, eliminating human deaths is of utmost importance, but you could eliminate human deaths, without eliminating the disease itself. It’s like fighting a fire without trying to put it out.” 

Working to the target

KC explains that over the next two years World Animal Protection will be helping countries work towards the global 2030 target.

“We will vaccinate more than 100,000 dogs through our rabies elimination projects in Kenya, Sierra Leone, China, and India. These projects will show how dog and human rabies can be cost-effectively reduced by vaccinating at least 70% of dogs in specific areas. Through this work, local authorities and communities will also be able to understand how responsible dog ownership protects both human and animal health.”

“Rabies elimination is a global responsibility. We will also be working with international, national and local organisations to help 25 of the world’s 150 poorest most rabies-endemic countries improve how they tackle the disease. In these countries people and dogs face a daily risk of rabies. We’ll be pressing for global financial and technical support to help these nations get the resources, expertise and infrastructure they need to eliminate the disease,” says KC.

Central to all countries eliminating rabies is the Stepwise Approach to Rabies Elimination – devised by the Global Alliance for Rabies Elimination and advocated by World Animal Protection.

The Stepwise Approach is a tool involving measurable steps and stages with a corresponding logical flow of activities to achieve rabies elimination. To free themselves from dog-transmitted rabies, countries must achieve Stage 5.

Countries giving its citizens no information about rabies and its prevention, start at Stage 0, while others may start further along the scale. When a country reaches Stage 5, it is free from dog-transmitted rabies.

“Through advocating the Stepwise Approach, we estimate that we will improve the lives of 15 million dogs by 2020. We will also give governments vital support to meet the 2030 target and continue to prove how protecting dog populations is critical in protecting people from this terrible disease,” says KC. 

Test your knowledge on dogs and rabies with our interactive quiz.

We will vaccinate more than 100,000 dogs through our rabies elimination projects in Kenya, Sierra Leone, China, and India.
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