COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – Vets Beyond Borders is an organization dedicated to promoting animal and human welfare and preventing the spread of rabies—a virus that continues to pose a significant risk to developing countries, where it results in thousands of human deaths every year. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Vets Beyond Borders CEO Dr. Sally Colgan stated that “improving the welfare and health of food-producing animals, working animals and domestic species, including street dogs and cats, can reduce poverty by encouraging sustainable livelihoods, reducing zoonotic disease transmission and improving human health in low-income communities.”
Rabies is a preventable disease in animals that kills 59,000 humans every year. The rabies virus is a disease of animals that infects the central nervous system and can transmit to humans through saliva from bites or scratches. Rabies exists on every continent besides Antarctica, and though it affects both domestic and wild animals, more than 99% of all rabies deaths result from domestic dog bites.
Rabies is 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear. However, the virus is treatable with timely post-exposure immunoglobulin injections and it is preventable in animals and humans with a vaccine that has been available for more than 100 years. The routine administration of rabies vaccines in U.S. dogs is the reason why there were reports of only 127 human cases of rabies in the U.S. from 1960 to 2018. Approximately one-quarter of the rabies cases resulted from dog bites that occurred during visits to foreign countries.
The success of rabies vaccinations in wealthy countries similar to the U.S. is thanks to the high accessibility of vaccines and veterinary services. On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 59,000 human deaths from rabies worldwide every year, with 50% of rabies deaths occurring in children under 15-years-old and 95% of all rabies deaths occurring in Asia and Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists rabies as a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) that primarily affects disadvantaged communities where there is a lack of health care and veterinary services. In many countries, rabies vaccinations and immunoglobulins are frequently unavailable or too expensive for people who need the vaccinations. The average cost of life-saving immunoglobulin treatment is $108, which is unaffordable for people who live in areas where the average daily income is less than $2.
The Role of Domestic Dogs in Rabies Prevention Programs
600 Million is an animal rights organization that Alex Pacheco (co-founder of PETA) founded. The organization has estimated that there are as many as 600 million stray dogs worldwide. Most of the strays that live in countries where there are few resources available to manage the strays humanely and effectively. The overpopulation of stray dogs is a health and safety risk for the people who live alongside them. Dog bites and attacks spread rabies while causing serious physical injuries, particularly to small children. In communities where access to health care is limited or nonexistent, a single dog bite or scratch can mean the equivalent of a death sentence.
Countries ranging from Bali to Pakistan experience especially problematic stray dog populations, which leads authorities and citizens to often resort to culling, sometimes by the tens of thousands, to reduce populations and diminish the risk of injuries and diseases. Ethics aside, the problem with culling animals is that it is a short-term solution to an ongoing problem. Experts consider cullings non-sustainable management because dogs can travel from one area to another, and the rapid rate at which they can reproduce inevitably leads to resurgence. In addition to vaccinations and animal birth control processes including spaying and neutering, sustainable management of stray dogs includes improving dog health and educating communities about diseases, care and canine behavior.
How Vets Beyond Borders Serves Rabies Epidemic Countries
Routine vaccinations and animal birth control procedures are crucial for controlling stray dog populations and preventing the spread of rabies. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scientists have stated that “once 70% of dogs are vaccinated, rabies can be successfully controlled, and human deaths can be prevented.”
Vets Beyond Borders works with 26 partner organizations worldwide and serves 11 rabies epidemic countries by providing animal birth control and rabies vaccination programs according to Colgan. The organization also supplies clinical veterinary training to vets, vet assistants and handlers that work with stray animals. Vets Beyond Borders also represents Australia as a member of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, an international organization that promotes healthy and sustainable relationships between humans and animals in impoverished rural communities according to Colgan.
Working Towards a Rabies-Free Future
Preventing the spread of rabies is essential for the health, safety, and security of communities around the world. Animal welfare organizations similar Vets Beyond Borders help to bridge the gap between the human and animal health sector while supporting the underserved and working to make the eradication of rabies part of a reachable future.
– Jenny Rice