While a single rabies-related death in the U.S. is rare, it remains a global health issue – yet a completely preventable one. On World Rabies Day (September 28), those of us at Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal health celebrate the progress we’re making through Rabies Free Africa to bring this deadly disease to an end.
Nearly 60,000 people die of rabies each year. Half of those deaths are children and almost all in Africa and Asia. We know that 99 percent of human rabies cases are due to dog bites, which leads to our solution. Dog vaccination, shown to be responsible for the elimination of canine rabies here in the U.S., is highly effective. Our goal is to replicate this success in globally.
Rabies Free Africa is committed to our vision of Zero by 30 – no human deaths from rabies by 2030. We’ve seen incredible progress – in areas with active vaccination program, human cases of rabies have been reduced to almost zero. Those results are borne out by participation in vaccination campaigns. In communities across Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania vaccination drives brought people and their dogs from kilometers away.
The campaign also led to our discovery that the rabies vaccine doesn’t require continuous refrigeration, the “cold chain,” to be effective. This new understanding means communities can store rabies vaccines, vaccinating dogs on a more frequent basis, thus keeping animals and humans healthier.
This program has support from donors of all different sizes. In 2010, Paul Allen donated $26 million to WSU to catalyze new programs to block the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. Support also comes from veterinarians, here in Washington state and across the country, who donate $1 for each rabies vaccine delivered locally. Both are instrumental to the success of Rabies Free Africa. Together with our partners, we have now vaccinated over 1.5 million dogs in east Africa and, in doing so, demonstrated that human rabies deaths can be eliminated through dog vaccination.
Rabies Free Africa is committed to ending human suffering and death due to this preventable disease. Globally, we have petitioned Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, to include rabies vaccines among the 13 vaccines it supports. This will strengthen country capacity to forecast demand, improve delivery, and assess outcomes. Within the affected countries, communities that have seen that rabies can be eliminated are demanding regional and national action. Kenya is a model for how community level programs lead to national policy change.
Want to help? If you are a dog or cat owner, ask your veterinarian if they are participating in Rabies Free Africa. Chances are they already are—if so, thank them. If not, send them our way.