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Mass vaccination call to ‘make rabies history’

Greater effort needs to be put into vaccinating dogs against rabies in order to save lives, health experts say.

Up to 60,000 people die from the viral infection each year and it is almost always caught from dog bites.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control said mass vaccination could “make rabies history”.

The organisation HealthforAnimals argued protecting dogs was the most cost-effective way to protect people.

Rabies is present on every continent except Antarctica, but the overwhelming majority of deaths are in Asia and Africa.

Once symptoms develop it is nearly always fatal – although there is a brief window after a bite during which a vaccine can prevent the infection becoming deadly.

Around 40% of those who are bitten are under 15 years of age.


Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director of the global animal medicines association HealthforAnimals, told the BBC: “I don’t know if there’s a disease which is so easily preventable for so little money that affects so many people.”

He said vaccines were cheap and £5 ($8) could vaccinate 20 dogs for a year.

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The global economic cost is estimated to be £80bn ($124bn).

Mr du Marchie Sarvaas said: “If you look at the economic perspective there’s a case to be made, from a human point of view a lot of lives being lost are certainly the case.

“The most cost-effective and efficient way to do it is to vaccinate dogs, but then you run into barriers – how much money people make available to buy vaccines, the logistics of getting vaccines into certain areas – it’s not easy.”

A mass vaccination programme in Bangladesh has halved the number of human deaths since 2011.

Prof Louis Nel, executive director of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, argued: “We can make rabies history if international institutions invested more in mass canine vaccinations.

“We know we can beat canine rabies if we vaccinate 70% of dogs.”


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