Ending human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies

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A coalition of global health organizations hopes to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.

The End Rabies Now campaign, led by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, is urging action to end human deaths from canine-source rabies within 15 years. The disease now kills about 59,000 people each year, most of whom live in rural Africa and Asia and have limited access to health care or are unable to pay for treatment, according to the organization.

The global alliance is leading a partnership with the World Health Organization, World Veterinary Association, World Small Animal Veterinary Association, World Animal Protection, Fondation Mériux, and UBS Optimus Foundation.

In a Nov. 3 announcement coinciding with the campaign launch, biologist and GARC spokeswoman Louise Taylor, PhD, stated that no person should die of rabies, especially considering a vaccine has existed for 130 years.

“We have the clinical know-how to eliminate human deaths from canine rabies—we just need political leadership and funding,” she said in the announcement.

She said in an interview three days later that the campaign already had received more than 300 pledges of money from 44 countries. The partner organizations also planned, at press time, to seek increased financial investment and commitment to national rabies prevention programs in endemic countries by organizations and governments through a global conference Dec. 10-11 in Geneva, Switzerland. She expected the campaign would gain partner organizations through the end of the year.

A dog receiving a rabies vaccination in Mexico (Photo by Mariana Jácome/IICV-UABC)
A dog being vaccinated in India (Photos courtesy of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control)
A line for vaccination of animals in an unidentified country of Africa (Photo by Dr. Katie Hampson)

As for why a 2030 deadline was chosen, End Rabies Now campaign information cites a United Nations goal of ending epidemics of neglected tropical diseases by 2030, a commitment by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to eliminate human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies by 2020, and elimination of such deaths in some countries of the Americas through programs of the Pan American Health Organization.

Dr. Taylor said rabies can cause epidemics, but it is regarded as endemic in the countries with the worst rabies problems.

“Unfortunately, what gets neglected are often these sort of time-old problems, the endemic diseases that have been there forever,” she said.

She said the tools needed to tackle the disease are available, and the problem is in applying those tools. She described resignation and pessimism in some countries with longstanding rabies problems as well as competition for limited resources when rabies is among substantial disease threats.

Dr. Taylor also said neglected tropical diseases, of which rabies is one, have been described as “diseases of neglected, marginalized, poor communities.”

“So, in a way, really, it’s actually the communities that they affect that are neglected as well as the diseases,” she said.

But she thinks the global alliance’s work is entering an exciting new phase of increasing momentum and concrete examples of success. She said that success by some countries in eliminating human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies will persuade governments in even more countries that they may be able to accomplish the same.

More information is available here.