According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, rabies which is the 11th killer disease of human cause an estimated fifty-nine thousand deaths annually in 150 countries, with 95 % of cases occurring in Africa and Asia affecting mostly children.
In 2015, global health organisations and other stakeholders called for action by setting a goal of zero human dog-mediated rabies deaths by 2030, worldwide
Tagged “Zero by 30: The Global Strategic Plan to Prevent Human Deaths from Dog-Transmitted Rabies by 2030, the WHO, World Organisation for Animal Health, OIE, Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO and Global Alliance for Rabies Control, GARC, united to leverage existing tools and expertise in a coordinated way to empower/finance, engage, and enable countries to save human lives from this preventable disease.
Six years after, Nigeria is taking an active part in the global efforts through distribution of free vaccines to all States of the Federation and Abuja, with Lagos State as the pioneer.
What is rabies?
According to specialists, rabies is a highly fatal viral disease affecting all warm-blooded animals. Despite the high fatality, research shows that the disease is 100% preventable through mass dog vaccination, institution of efficient post exposure treatment and enlightenment campaigns.
While other animals, including cats, bats and foxes are known to transmit rabies, health specialists say dogs account for 99 per cent of human deaths resulting from the disease.
Although less than ten thousand cases per year are recorded in Nigeria,
Information obatined from the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria, Dr. Olaniran Alabi indicates that rabies is one of the priority trans-boundary animal diseases which has remained endemic in the country since it was first reported in 1912.
The Nigerian Chief Vet officer noted that while dogs are increasingly being bred and used for hunting, security and companionship purposes among others in the Country, less than 5% of dogs are vaccinated due to high cost of the vaccine.
Mode of Transmission and Impact on Humans
A Consultant Cardiologist, Dr. Kareem Lookman explained that the virus is majorly transmitted through a deep bite from a dog, or when a dog licks a wound on the human body.
He said the virus replicates in muscles at the bite site, travels to the nervous system, the spinal cord, brain and other tissues such as kidneys, eyes and eventually shut all of them down.
The Consultant Cardiologist stated that the scariest thing about rabies is the disconnect between incubation period and actual sickness which may take between one month to six years.
“The person may have even forgotten that he was either bitten by a dog or got his wound licked by a dog and this can take from one month to six years”
A Chief Veterinary officer with the Lagos State Government, Dr Olajumoke Enebeli stated that everyone, from adult to children is at risk of rabies
Dr Enebeli who noted that being an animal reservoirs disease, rabies, eradication may not be possible, but its elimination as already demonstrated in some countries, including Australia is feasible if vaccination is maintained at high levels
Strategies to Eliminate Rabies in Nigeria
To ensure the success of the multi-sectoral approach and meet the 2030 global target, the Federal Government distributed two hundred thousand anti-rabies vaccine, received from relevant international organisations to all States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Dr Mairo Kachalla of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development stated that a nationwide campaign and free vaccination strategy was also embarked upon to achieve the 2030 target
“In our effort to achieve this global target, the department of veterinary and pest control services sought for additional international support and OIE responded by donating 200,000 doses of Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV) to the country. This is to assist us in the control of rabies and we need to start now in order to reach our target, so, the Federal Government has given all the States of the Federation, including the FCT, a donation of anti-rabies vaccines according to their reporting activities and their rabies status” She explained.
In Lagos, the State kicked off the anti rabies campaign with a two-week free vaccination of dogs and cats.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms. Abisola Olusanya said though the anti-rabies campaign commenced simultaneously in all the five divisions of the State, the official ceremony was taken to the Palace of the Ayangburen of Ikorodu, to garner support of traditional rulers, a move which she said would help check unlicensed dogs from roaming the streets of Lagos.
The State Commissioner said “We have over one-point-five million dogs in Lagos alone, some of these dogs are not registered, they are not licensed, it means that we could have a lot of rabid dogs on the prowl. This vaccination exercise is going to take place for the next three years, because it has to be consecutive”
Some dog breeders and pet owners whose animals have already been vaccinated described the strategy as laudable.
They, like other stakeholders expressed the hope that that at the end of the campaign, Nigeria will be able to stand tall among other dog mediated rabies-free nations.