Fighting Rabies In Africa
Dr. Kraabel and I returned recently from a trip to Africa with Washington State University’s Allen School for Global Health. Lien Animal Clinic has supported the school’s program to eliminate Rabies in Africa for many years by donating a dollar from every Rabies vaccination to the program. While uncommon in the United States, Rabies leads to around 60,000 human deaths (mostly in children) and uncounted dog and endangered wildlife deaths worldwide each year. These deaths are especially tragic because human cases of Rabies are nearly 100% preventable through canine vaccination and appropriate treatment following exposure. The World Health Organization and WSU’s goal is for Africa to be free of human cases of Rabies by the year 2030. Their research has shown that by vaccinating 70% of the owned dogs in an area, they can greatly reduce the number of people and wildlife bitten by dogs and virtually eliminate human and endangered wildlife Rabies cases.
During the trip, we accompanied WSU’s local teams on “boma to boma” visits to traditional Maasai communities. As soon as we walked into a village, the boys would begin whistling for their dogs and soon we would be surrounded by many excited children and a dozen or more dogs and puppies. Each owner would hold their dogs for vaccination and receive a vaccination certificate. There would also usually be a cat or two warily observing from the shadows, and any that owners managed to catch were also vaccinated (nearly all the dogs were vaccinated but probably about 50% of the cats eluded capture.) We also attended a vaccination clinic in a small town. Earlier in the week, the WSU team had posted flyers and driven around with a loud speaker to advertise the event. Very few people in the area have cars and many walked miles to attend. A steady stream of owners lined up with their dogs (and a few cats) to be vaccinated. The team had limited medical supplies, but they did have some topical antibiotics for wounds and dewormer for dogs that were thin or mangy. One dog that was treated with antibiotics had a gash on his side from a fight with a baboon.
In addition to vaccinating dogs, WSU teams also train health care workers to administer Rabies prophylaxis to bite victims and follow up on reports of dog bites to track the dogs involved and identify other bite victims who have not yet sought healthcare. We visited several healthcare centers and went along on a home visit to check up on a woman who received Rabies prophylaxis following a dog bite. We also learned about WSU’s programs to monitor livestock diseases, study the transmission & prevention of zoonotic diseases (those that are transmissible from animals to humans), and reduce childhood malnutrition. Everywhere we went, people were very appreciative of WSU’s efforts and we saw signs that their programs were really making a difference in the communities they served.
Of course, no trip to Africa would be complete without seeing wildlife. We spent time in and around Arusha National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Serengeti National Park. We saw some amazing animals, including tens of thousands of wildebeests gathering for the great migration, herds of zebras, buffalos, and antelope, families of elephants & giraffes, and lots of big cats. Some of the highlights were seeing a leopard cub playing in the grass and a group of lions napping in a big tree
To learn more or to donate to the cause, visit their website here.