A new framework to eliminate human rabies and save tens of thousands of lives each year, was launched on Thursday by four United Nations bodies.
They include the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Alliance for the Control of Rabies (GARC).
A statement issued by Christian Lindmeier of the WHO Department of Communications said, the framework called for three key actions - making human vaccines and antibodies affordable, ensuring people who get bitten receive prompt treatment, and mass dog vaccinations to tackle the disease at its source.
“Rabies is 100 per cent preventable through vaccination and timely immunization after exposure, but access to post bite treatment is expensive and is not affordable in many Asian and African countries.
“If we follow this more comprehensive approach, we can consign rabies to the history books,” said Dr Margaret ChanWHO, the Director-General.
The statement said tens of thousands of people died from rabies each year and, worldwide, four out of every 10 people bitten by suspected rabid dogs were children aged under 15 years.
It said one person died every 10 minutes, with the greatest burden in Asia and Africa; stating that the cost of human vaccines to protect from rabies is, however, beyond the reach of many of those who may need it.
“And treatment for people who are bitten can cost $ 40–50, representing an average of 40 days of wages in some of the affected countries,” the statement said.
It said recognizing that human vaccination was currently not always affordable, the new framework emphasized prevention through vaccinating dogs – whose bites caused 99 per cent of all human rabies cases; declaring that a dog vaccine cost less than one dollar.
“Vaccinating 70 per cent of dogs regularly in zones where rabies is present can reduce human cases to zero. Eliminating canine rabies through dog vaccination is the most cost-effective and only long-term solution,” said Dr Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General.
“Human deaths can be prevented when mass dog vaccination is combined with responsible pet ownership and stray dog population management, both complying with OIE intergovernmental standards, as well as with bite treatment, as recommended by WHO,” he added.
The statement said whilst vaccinating dogs would be key in the new approach, the elimination of rabies – and saving the lives of those who are bitten – would not be possible without more widely-available human vaccines.
It said currently, about 80 per cent of people exposed to rabies lived in poor, rural areas of Africa and Asia, with no access to prompt treatment should they be bitten.
It said bringing treatment closer to victims and providing wider access to affordable vaccines and potent rabies immunoglobulins, which neutralized the rabies virus before it could get a hold in the body, were vital to achieving zero rabies deaths.
It noted that bringing down the cost of human rabies vaccines and treatments would require strong international collaboration to make quality-assured vaccines and rabies immunoglobulin available to health centres in regions where rabies was endemic.
It said as of 2015, WHO and the OIE Vaccine Bank had delivered more than 15 million doses of canine rabies vaccines in many countries.
It said on December 10 and 11, experts, donors, and veterinary and public health officials would adopt a plan of action expected to deliver prompt post-exposure prophylaxis for all in rabies endemic areas, as well as a framework for scaling up sustained, large-scale dog vaccination.
“This milestone international conference will also discuss a push for coordinated activities targeting dog and human populations by adapting proven control strategies. Another important component is harnessing support for community awareness and engagement to facilitate and strengthen data collection, bite incidence reporting and demand for post-exposure prophylaxis. Educating children on how to avoid being bitten is also vital,” the statement said.
The conference “Global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies – The time is now, ” is jointly organized by WHO and the OIE, in collaboration with the FAO, with support from GARC.