Forty-five per cent, or nearly 26,000 people, die of rabies in eight of the 11 Southeast Asian member countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and 1.5 million people remain at risk of the disease. Around the world, rabies causes 59,000 deaths every year, which translates to one person every nine minutes. Most of the victims are children and the poor. India has the highest number of rabies cases in the world.
Owing to the enormity of the problem, the WHO on Thursday called upon member states and partners to accelerate efforts to end rabies.
“Human rabies is caused mostly by dogs and can be eliminated by increasing awareness about the disease, vaccinating dogs and most importantly by making the already available life-saving rabies vaccines, medicines, tools and technologies affordable and available to all. We can, and must break the disease cycle and save lives,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO Southeast Asia at the global meeting on ‘Driving progress towards rabies elimination’ in Kathmandu.
Countries from Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, who have assessed access, delivery and distribution of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, shared outcomes of their studies.
These studies were conducted with WHO support to enable GAVI take an informed decision to support rabies vaccines. The rabies endemic countries are seeking GAVI support to improve affordability and access to rabies vaccines for vulnerable populations, of which many are children.
Rabies is 100 per cent preventable through proper access to vaccines and to life-saving treatment following dog bites.
WHO has been advocating for a shift from intramuscular to intradermal rabies vaccination, which is not only 60 to 80 per cent cheaper, but is of shorter treatment regimen of just one week. Most countries in WHO Southeast Asia Region are now using intradermal route for anti-rabies vaccines.
At the meeting, the countries along with WHO, OIE, FAO and UNICEF deliberated on measures to fast-track elimination of dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.
The members shared initiatives being rolled out as part of the new ‘Zero by 30: The Strategic Plan’, to be launched by WHO and partners to end dog transmitted rabies. The plan centres on ‘One Health’ approach and addresses the disease in a holistic and cross-sectoral manner.
It aims at preventing and responding to dog-transmitted rabies by improving awareness and education, reducing human rabies risk through expanded dog vaccinations, and improving access to healthcare, medicines and vaccines for populations at risk.
The plan calls for generating and measuring impact by implementing proven effective guidelines for rabies control, and encouraging the use of innovative surveillance technologies to monitor progress towards “Zero by 30”. It also aims at continued stakeholder engagement at all levels to sustain financing for achieving “Zero by 30”.
Rabies is a viral disease that occurs in more than 150 countries and territories – is usually fatal once symptoms appear. Dog-transmitted rabies accounts for about 99% of human rabies cases.
People’s livelihoods, too, are affected when livestock get rabies – a loss estimated at over $500 million per year globally. Vaccinating dogs can reduce risks and ultimately eliminate the disease.