Fast-track efforts to eliminate rabies: WHO


The World Health Organization today called upon Member States and partners to accelerate efforts to end rabies which causes 59 000 agonizing and painful deaths globally every year, one person every nine minute, mostlychildren and the poor.

Eight of the 11 Member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region account for nearly 26 000 rabies deaths, 45% of the global rabies toll, as over 1.5 million people in the Region remain at risk of rabies.

“Humanrabies is caused mostly by dogs and can be eliminated by increasing awareness about the disease, vaccinating dogs and most importantly by making the already available life-saving rabies vaccines, medicines, tools and technologies affordableand available to all. We can, and must break the disease cycle and save lives,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia,told the global meeting ‘Driving progress towards rabies elimination’here.

At the meeting, the global rabies partners comprising of WHO, OIE, FAO and UNICEF and rabies endemic countries from Asia-Pacific and Africa, shared and deliberated on measures to fast-track elimination of dog transmitted rabies by 2030.

Countries from Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, who have assessed access, delivery and distribution of rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, shared outcomes of their studies. These studies were conducted with WHO support, as part of the GAVILearning agenda, to enable the global body take an informed decision to support rabies vaccines.The rabies endemic countries are seeking GAVI support to improve affordability and access to rabies vaccines for vulnerable populations, of which many are children.

WHO has been advocating for a shift from intramuscular to intradermal rabies vaccines, which not only saves up to 60 – 80% of doses and cost, but are administered through shorter treatment regimen of one week. Most countries in WHO South-East Asia Region are now using intradermal rabies vaccines.
At the meeting, Member countries shared initiatives being rolled out as part of the new ‘Zero by 30: The Strategic Plan’, to be launched by WHO and partners to end dog transmitted rabies. The plan centers on One Health approach and addresses the disease in a holistic and cross-sectoral manner while highlighting the important role veterinary, health and educational services play in rabies prevention and control.

The plan aims at preventing and responding to dog-transmitted rabies by improving awareness and education, reducing human rabies risk through expanded dog vaccinations, and improving access to healthcare, medicines and vaccines for populations at risk. It calls for generating and measuring impact by implementing proven effective guidelines for rabies control, and encouraging the use of innovative surveillance technologies to monitor progress towards “Zero by 30”. The plan also aims at continued stakeholder engagement at all levels to sustained financing for achieving “Zero by 30”.

Investing in rabies control and elimination strengthens health systems, improves equity and access to healthcare and contributes to sustainable development.

About rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that occurs in more than 150 countries and territories – is usually fatal once symptoms appear. Dog-transmitted rabies accounts for about 99% of human rabies cases. It is estimated that 59,000 people die from rabies every year.

40% of people bitten by suspect rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.

The world’s poorest are the most affected as they cannot afford treatment or transport for care. People’s livelihoods are also affected when livestock get rabies, a loss estimated at over US$ 500 million per year globally.

However, rabies is 100% preventable by ensuring access to life-saving treatment following dog bites; and by vaccinating dogs to reduce risks and ultimately to eliminate the disease.