The World Health Organization joined the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in calling on countries to invest in strategies geared towards eliminating human rabies, which is commonly transmitted via a bite from an infected dog.

In partnership with the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), the WHO, OIE and FAO published the "Rationale for investing in the global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies" to call on investments for sustainable and cost-effective control programs, primarily mass vaccination in dogs in low-income countries. Pilot programs that have been rolled out have successfully shown that eliminating human rabies is possible when mass vaccination programs are carried out alongside improving access to post-bite treatments.

Rabies kills thousands every year even though tools needed to address the disease are available because of poor implementation. More than 99 percent of human rabies cases are because of dog bites, with nearly 40 percent of victims being children below 15 years old.

Post-bite treatments are effective in reducing deaths associated with human rabies but the approach can be costly and mostly only works when given promptly to a patient. Mass vaccinating dogs still remains the more cost-effective option in keeping human rabies at bay.

"Rationale for investing in the global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies" outlines the feasibility of achieving global freedom from human rabies transmitted from dogs. According to it, initiatives must involve communities for efforts to be truly effective, reiterating the importance of investments in supporting and sustaining control programs at the regional and national level.

For instance, regional rabies vaccine banks can be set up in various countries to complement their efforts at curbing human rabies through local programs. Some are already up and running in Asia, set up by the OIE, which are not being utilized by the WHO for procuring high-quality rabies vaccines for distribution in the Philippines and Southern Africa.

Conditions for successful rabies control listed by the rationale include:

  • Safe and effective vaccines for humans and dogs;
  • Practical guidance for implementing rabies control programs;
  • Awareness and education modules to promote community involvement; and
  • Surveillance, data collection and notification systems crucial for evaluating how elimination and control campaigns are progressing.

In December, the WHO, OIE, FAO and GARC will be leading an international conference to be held in Geneva to tackle the global elimination of human rabies transmitted from dogs.

Photo: CDC Global | Flickr

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