Why "World Rabies Day" is important
The queue in the center of Shirati Sota village in northern Tanzania begins to form at around 8 a.m. and continues to grow throughout the day. Children, mostly boys, bring the dogs. Women tend to bring cats, usually inside sacks.
As they arrive all at once, a newly appointed rabies coordinator struggles to keep the group in an orderly fashion, with dogs, unaccustomed to their twine leashes or metal chain, picking fights with one another. Despite a tedious wait in the tropical heat, no one leaves. By the end of the day more than 350 dogs and cats will be vaccinated – job done.
The vaccination campaign is being implemented by Washington State University’s Rabies Free Africaprogram as a trial funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The campaign tests which method of mass vaccination of dogs is most cost-effective: the standard method in which teams of vaccinators travel to villages one by one with vaccines stored in refrigeration units, or a new method in which community-based livestock field officers store vaccines locally and implement the vaccination campaigns themselves.
Our hunch is the new method will be more cost-effective because it allows vaccination to take place throughout the year. Regardless, a randomized controlled trial is necessary to test this hypothesis.
If vaccinating dogs using the community-based rabies coordinator approach is cheaper and results in more dogs being vaccinated, we plan to roll this delivery method out across the vast remote landscapes where dog rabies remains endemic and humans regularly die. But how do the rabies coordinators keep the vaccines cool in such remote places? Well, that’s the interesting part. They don’t have to.
A study by WSU found dogs vaccinated with rabies vaccine stored up to 25 degrees Celsius for six months and 30 degrees Celsius for three months produced an equivalent antibody response to those vaccinated with a cold chain vaccine. Meaning rabies coordinators can store vaccines needed for their village in unpowered storage units that aren’t at cold chain temperature.
All being well, we hope this trial will result in new community-led delivery models that will help rabies vaccination be delivered at scale across the regions where the disease remains endemic, eliminating human rabies as a result.
To learn more about the research Rabies Free Africa does and how you can join the movement to save the lives of dogs and people visit Rabies Free Africa