Mission Rabies, a three-year campaign aimed at reducing the incidence of rabies in India, has vaccinated over sixty thousand dogs, with seventy percent coverage in target areas, in twenty eight days, demonstrating for the first time, that it is possible to run effective mass vaccination campaigns and offer a solution to rabies.
India is the world’s rabies hot spot, with over a third of reported human cases occurring there and someone dying every thirty minutes as a result of this disease. Children from poor and marginal communities are the most affected, and over ninety-nine percent of human cases are the result of dog bites.
In response to these statistics, hundreds of thousands of dogs are indiscriminately and inhumanely killed every year across India, but these efforts have been shown to be ineffective at controlling the disease and, in some cases, can even increase the spread. Mission Rabies is changing this by vaccinating at least seventy percent of the canine population in rabies endemic areas, a proportion necessary for control of the disease in both dogs and humans, according to WHO guidelines.
During September the campaign targeted twelve of the country’s worst affected areas, with groups of overseas volunteers and local staff treating a total of 60,304 dogs – one every forty seconds.
Luke Gamble, CEO of Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) and founder of Mission Rabies, describes the effect that this could have if managed nationally, “these campaigns could save the Indian economy millions; post-exposure vaccines currently cost over $25m a year, whilst the actual cost of running these campaigns is $5m. With funding from the Indian government we could wipe out rabies in India, saving many more human lives and hundreds of thousands of dogs.”
Collaboration with many Indian veterinary and animal welfare organizations, including Blue Cross of India and Animal Welfare Board of India, will ensure sustainability of the rabies control efforts for years to come. This will kick-start not only a three-year campaign of sustained vaccination, targeting a total of two million dogs in India, but also provide surgical training for long-term animal birth control programmes to tackle the problem of street dog overpopulation.
The project will set up the country’s first India National Rabies Network, supplying subsidised, effective vaccines and recording their usage so that mapping of vaccination coverage across India will become a reality.