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We must vaccinate our dogs to eliminate rabies in Kenya

The global cost of rabies in the world is $ 8.6 billion

In Summary
  • In Kenya, Rabies post exposure treatment costs close to Sh20,000.
  • According to Global Alliance for Rabies Control, 59,000 human deaths per annum are caused by dog mediated Rabies
A dog being vaccinated against rabies

Imagine you receive a call that your 7-year old son has been bitten by a dog.

At the clinic, the nurse says that since they can’t trace the dog or its owner, your son will need to be started on post exposure prophylaxis for Rabies.

To make matters worse, the clinic has no any rabies vaccine, so you’ll need to purchase some on your way or seek services at a private clinic.

In Kenya, Rabies post exposure treatment costs close to Sh20,000.

What is Rabies? It is a fatal viral disease mainly transmitted to humans when bitten by infected dogs.

The disease is found in 150 countries with 95 per cent of Rabies related deaths being reported in Africa and Asia.

According to Global Alliance for Rabies Control, 59,000 human deaths per annum are caused by dog mediated Rabies; that’s one person every nine minutes.

 Of these deaths, 40 per cent are children under the age of 15 years and majority of these being boys, based on how they interact with dogs.

In Kenya, the Alliance estimates that 523 people die from rabies per year. The World Health Organization acknowledges that due to underreporting and estimation, the true picture of the disease burden is grossly under estimated.

These available figures are quite unfortunate considering rabies is 100 per cent preventable.

However, rabies is still a neglected disease and the lack of prioritization for its elimination means the cost of treatment is extremely high.

During the United Against Rabies Forum, the global cost of rabies, in terms of post exposure treatment, loss of lives and loss of livelihoods was $ 8.6 billion annually. In Kenya, the annual cost of managing Rabies is $ 54 million (Sh6 billion).

It is based on these facts that Kenya developed the 2014 – 2030 Strategic Plan for the Elimination of Human Rabies in Kenya.

With just nine years left, a lot more can be done to support the veterinary fraternity to achieve success.

For elimination to be achieved, at least 70 per cent of the dog population needs to be vaccinated annual for at least three consecutive years.

The cost of conducting a rabies vaccination campaigns is quite high therefore a multi-sectorial collaborative approach will be crucial to achieve success.

Different players bring on board different strengths.

County veterinary departments have access to vaccines and field personnel.

Together with their counterparts in the health departments they are able to conduct joint disease surveillance which assists in decision making.

Development Organizations and local administration have capacity to assist in ensuring that communities are adequately mobilized and dogs are presented for vaccination.

Presence of political goodwill has demonstrated positive uptake of disease control measures and allocation of adequate funds for purposes of vaccination and surveillance.

Schools, media and religious institutions are key players in community education on Rabies.

Community education is critical in the campaign to eliminate Rabies. The messaging for this needs to cover facts about Rabies and responsible dog ownership.

On Rabies, besides the above statistics, messaging should sensitize the public on steps to be taken immediately after being bitten by a suspect Rabid animal.

Ideally, the bite wound must be thoroughly washed with soap and water for 15 minutes. Thereafter the bite victim must consult a doctor about post exposure treatment.

According to the Strategic Plan, more than 80 per cent of dogs in Kenya have owners.

This means that these dogs can be presented to a veterinarian for annual vaccination.

It is the responsibility of the owner to ensure that their dog is vaccinated and a certificate issued to prove the same.

Mass dog vaccination is a cost effective strategy that can save human lives and livelihoods.

If an animal owner is totally unable to afford the market rate for Rabies vaccination they should consult the County Veterinary Department for assistance.

Children need to be taught the do’s and don’ts when playing with or around dogs to minimise the chances of being bitten.

As the world marked the 15th World Rabies Day celebration on  September 28, 2021, the veterinary fraternity reminded the general public that the only way we can eliminate human deaths from dog mediated Rabies is if we rally together to spread facts not fear.

If we make deliberate efforts to vaccinate 70 per cent of the dog population, make Rabies post exposure treatment accessible and affordable and strengthen our surveillance system, we will be able to eliminate Rabies by 2030.

Dr Samantha Opere is a Veterinary Officer/Project Manager at Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies (KENDAT)