International health groups vow renewed effort to eradicate rabies

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Sept. 28 was World Rabies Day, an annual campaign sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and the Alliance for Rabies Control, but this year's event was an international affair. Four global health organizations marked the occasion by publishing a call to action for all countries to invest in rabies-control programs, focusing particularly on vaccinating dogs.

Although rabies has been nearly eradicated in the U.S. and other developed countries, it is still a problem in developing nations, and 95% of cases are caused by bites from infected dogs, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The OIE banded together with The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and the World Health Organization to put out the renewed call for mass vaccination of dogs.

"Vaccinating 70% of dogs in rabies-affected areas is sufficient to eliminate canine rabies worldwide, at a much lower cost than post-exposure medication," said Bernard Vallat, the director general of OIE, in a press release.

The OIE cited several examples of the direct link between vaccinating dogs against rabies and preventing the disease in people. A recent pilot program sponsored by the WHO in the Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania "drastically" reduced human deaths from the disease, for example. And in Bangladesh, a vaccination campaign between 2011 and 2013 caused the human death rate from rabies to drop by 50%.

The animal health trade organization HealthforAnimals estimates that in 2013, rabies cost the world $124 billion in treatments and prevention measures. The organization put out a statement on Sept. 28 supporting the work of the OIE and its three coordinators on the new campaign. HealthforAnimals emphasized the importance of embracing a "One Health" approach--a coordinated effort between veterinarians and human-health workers to combat rabies.

The OIE, the WHO and the other organizations have made themselves available to provide technical support and other services to countries that are establishing rabies-control systems. Their next step will be to convene a conference in December at the WHO's headquarters in Geneva for health ministers, veterinarians and human-health experts. The event is appropriately titled "Global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies: The Time is Now!"

- here's the OIE's press release
- access the HealthforAnimals statement here
- read more at Animal Pharm