The aim of World Rabies Day

Raising awareness of the tremendous cost associated with rabies, as well as the simple steps that can save thousands of lives, are the focus of this year’s World Rabies Day on 28 September. Public health and veterinary experts from 34 different countries will come together under the global theme of #EndRabiesTogether, to co-ordinate efforts to combat rabies in Africa.

In South Africa, this initiative is driven by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), the  National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Sanofi Pasteur (the vaccine’s division of Sanofi), and Merial South Africa (the animal health division of Sanofi), working together to promote rabies prevention awareness and education, and ultimately to save lives.

How infection occurs

Even though rabies is 100% preventable with timely intervention of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), it is a deadly disease with a case-fatality rate of almost 100%. The majority of human rabies deaths globally occur as a result of being bitten by infected dogs and most victims are children on the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A global study on canine rabies, published by the GARC’s Partners for Rabies Prevention Group this year, has found that 160 people die every single day from the disease. The study reveals that the greatest risk of canine rabies is in the poorest countries. An estimated 21 500 people in Africa die from rabies every year and the death rate is highest in countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The cost of rabies

The study further reveals the economic impact of rabies, with the annual economic losses estimated at around US$8.6 billion, mostly due to premature deaths, but also because of spending on human vaccines, lost income for victims of animal bites and other costs. The estimated annual global cost of canine rabies may approach $120 billion. In South Africa alone, the economic burden of saving lives through treatment is estimated at R70 million per annum: R50 million for rabies vaccine and R20 million for rabies immuno-globulin.  

An estimated 21 500 people in Africa die from rabies every year.

Despite these alarming figures, rabies is notoriously under-reported. The first global survey of rabies reporting systems uncovered a lack of rabies reporting in countries where the risk is greatest. Across Africa and Asia, where rabies kills the most people, most reporting systems were judged to be ineffective. “An understanding of the actual burden helps us determine and advocate for the resources needed to tackle this fatal disease,” says Professor Nel, Global Director, Global Alliance for Rabies Control.

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How to prevent rabies

Rabies is 100% preventable and can be eliminated, saving tens of thousands of lives each year. A prime example is the success achieved in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where a steep decline in both animal and human cases has been reported over the last few years. This success has been achieved through a focus on dog vaccinations and bears testimony to the fact that elimination of canine rabies in dogs in South Africa is an achievable objective.

The most cost-effective way of preventing canine rabies is by vaccinating dogs, supplemented by improving access to human vaccines. The vaccine can be administered to people before exposure to the virus (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or immediately after contact with an infected animal (post-exposure prophylaxis). In certain exposures (as determined by the evaluating healthcare professional), patients may also receive rabies immunoglobulin to provide passive immunity against the rabies virus. Vaccinations are available from regional hospitals, pharmacies, clinics and travel clinics countrywide.

It is also a legal requirement that all pets are vaccinated annually against rabies by a veterinarian. Make an appointment with your local veterinary clinic or alternatively visit Community Veterinary Clinics (CVC) at www.communityvet.co.za or call 012 346 1150.

Let’s #EndRabiesTogether this year and eliminate unnecessary suffering and loss of life caused by rabies in our most vulnerable communities.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.