Tanzania: Launch of National Vaccination Against Rabies

Francis Otto, a veterinary technician, prepares a rabies injection (file photo).

"MAN'S best friend" is a common phrase used to describe domestic dogs, referring to their millennia-long history of close relations, loyalty, friendship, and companionship with humans.

It is claimed that the first time the phrase 'man's best friend' was used, was in 1789 by King Frederick the Great of Prussia.

"The only, absolute and best friend that a man has, in this selfish world, the only one that will not betray or deny him, is his DOG." He was talking about his Italian Greyhound when he used this phrase.

However, the man's best friend can be dangerous to human beings because they are the most important vectors of rabies, a zoonotic viral disease which infects domestic and wild animals.

Rabies is transmitted to other animals and humans through close contact with saliva from infected animals through bites, scratches, licks on broken skin and mucous membranes.

According to WHO rabies is a vaccine-preventable. However, once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is virtually 100 per cent fatal. In up to 99 per cent of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for rabies virus transmission to humans.

Rabies occurs in more than 150 countries and territories and dogs are the main source of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99 per cent of all rabies transmissions to humans.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says approximately 99 per cent of the estimated 59,000 annual human rabies deaths in Africa and Asia are attributed to dog bites and are preventable through parenteral dog vaccination.

In addition to dog rabies, the rabies virus also circulates in wildlife carnivores in southern Africa and virus exchange occurs readily across species barriers.

Most human deaths follow a bite from an infected dog. About 30 to 60 percent of dog bite victims are children under the age of 15.

In Tanzania, studies show that rabies is responsible for an estimated 1,500 deaths per year. Poverty and access to health services present additional barriers to treatment, especially in rural areas.

A large-scale rabies control programme in Tanzania was implemented in South-eastern Tanzania and Pemba Island from 2010 to 2016 under financial support of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Project sites covered 28 districts and a population of approximately 8.9 million people.

As part of achievements, animal bite cases (a proxy for rabies exposure) approximately halved across project sites, and human rabies deaths reduced by more than 75 per cent following human and canine rabies interventions.

Tanzania is currently finalizing a national rabies control strategy, and aims to eliminate dog-mediated rabies countrywide by 2030 It is under the national rabies control strategy, the government launched a national canine rabies vaccination campaign in Kisarawe District, Coast Region on Wednesday last week where university students are vaccinating dogs and cats and sensitize the communities on rabies control.

Fifty students from Sokoine University of Agriculture and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) started vaccinating the animals and provide education about rabies prevention in 17 wards of Kisarawe District.

Why Kisarawe? Kisarawe District is considered to be among the hotspots for rabies as it borders the Nyerere National Park, the largest national park in Tanzania and also one of the world's largest wildlife sanctuaries, according to the Director of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development, Prof Herzon Nonga.

"There is wildlife, livestock and human interface and due to that wildlife diseases may easily be spread to domestic animals are the main vehicle," he told the Daily News at the launching event. "Kisarawe borders Nyerere National Park and Kazimzumbwi Forest Reserve.

There are so many rabies cases. Kisarawe is among hotspots for rabies in Tanzania," he said. Prof Nonga other risky areas for rabies were those near wildlife, wildlife conservation areas such as Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Manyara National Park.

"These area have lots of interaction between wildlife and domestic animals. There is wildlife, livestock and human interface. So many wildlife diseases are spread to domestic animals including rabies where dogs are the main vehicles of transmission to human beings," he said.

How do students come in? Prof Nonga said a meeting held in Morogoro in April agreed to use of university students in the vaccination drive under the One Health policy where multiple sectors work together to achieving optimal outcomes with minimum costs.

The symposium in Morogoro involved various sectors from the ministries of health, livestock and fisheries development, regional administration and local government.

Other participants were from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Tanzania Office, USAID, Ifakara Institute, Africa One Health University Network (AFROHUN) and Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS).

He said the participants discussed a national rabies control strategy which aims to eliminate dogmediated rabies countrywide by 2030 and agreed to run the national rabid vaccination campain by using the workforce of university students.

Prof Nonga said they expect that at least 70 per cent of all dogs and cats in the country, estimated to reach 4.5 million and 2.0 million respectively will be vaccinated.

He said rabies was responsible for an estimated 1,500 deaths per year in Tanzania while dogs attacks on humans (a proxy for rabies exposure) is estimated to reach 3,387 per year.

He said it was far easier to carry out canine rabies vaccination drive than to treat poeple infected with rabies as it cost between 2,000/- and 3,000/- to inoculate one dog while it takes about 200,000/- to treat someone bitten by a suspected rabid dog or cat.

Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, he said noting vaccinating dogs or cats was the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies in people.

Prof Nonga said under the national rabies control strategy vaccination of dogs was compulsory and owners of the animals would be needed make sure their dogs and cats are inoculated.

"Nowadays vaccinating your dog is no longer an option. It is compulsory and a legal issue," he said. "The guideline is to keep dogs and cats that we can take care of instead of letting them wandering in streets.

We have so many stray dogs and cats," he said. The District Commissioner, Jokate Mwegelo thanked development partners who supported the vaccination campaign and hailed the ministry and partners for initiating use of university students in the campaign to help them get the necessary field experience while making optimal use of available human resources.

She urged the local community in the district to come out in large numbers to get an education and provide their dogs and cats to be vaccinated.

"Let us leaders go out to the people and encourage them to come out and participate in this campaign. No dog or cat should be left out," she said in the launching event.

She however called on district and ward leaders to get prepared to run other rabies vaccination campaigns that may follow using local resources instead of relying on donor support.

"Our leaders need to be prepared. In campaigns like this it is better to get prepared to be self-reliant. If we can organize ourselves we can take care of things like this campaign using our own money," she said

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