SEATTLE — The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new framework to eliminate human rabies.
One person dies every nine minutes from rabies. That’s tens of thousands of people dying from rabies each year. Worldwide four out of every 10 people bitten by suspected rabid dogs are children under the age of 15 years. People living in Africa make up 95 percent of these deaths.
The WHO is not acting alone in this endeavor, but is in partnership with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Global Alliance for the Control of Rabies.
The framework to eliminate human rabies calls for three key actions. The first is to make human vaccines and antibodies affordable. The second is to ensure that people who are bitten receive treatment quickly. Thirdly, mass dog vaccinations will be performed to tackle the disease directly from the source.
Already the disease is totally preventable through vaccination and timely immunization after exposure. According to Global Alliance for the Control of Rabies, vaccines have existed since 1885.
“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 the disease to the history books,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan
The cost of human vaccines to protect from rabies is beyond the reach of many who need it. According to WHO, treatment for individuals who are bitten can cost $40–50. In some of the affected countries that price tag could be 40 days of wages.
In a nod to understanding that human vaccination is not always affordable, the new framework emphasizes elimination the disease in dogs that act as a major carrier. Dog bites are responsible for 99 percent of all human cases. A dog vaccine costs less than one dollar.
By regularly vaccinating 70 percent of dogs in areas where the disease is present, it is possible to reduce human cases to zero. This approach “is the most cost-effective and only long-term solution,” states OIE Director-General Dr Bernard Vallat.
“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,” Vallat said.
According to WHO, as of 2015, the WHO and OIE have delivered more than 15 million doses of canine vaccines in many countries.