Among zoonotic diseases, rabies is very much a known quantity. It is preventable – a vaccine has been available for more than 100 years (CDC) – and it is curable with timely post-exposure treatment, yet in the developing world it continues to be a serious threat to human life. Estimates put the death toll at 70,000 people each year, nearly all in the developing countries of Africa and Asia. Children are disproportionately affected – more than 60 per cent of the deaths are in children under 15 years of age and 99 per cent of the deaths are the result of dog bites.
VWB/VSF has been working on this challenge since it was founded. Volunteers have been working with VWB/VSF on rabies prevention in Latin America since 2005, but it is increasingly difficult to fund those missions and VWB/VSF has recently transferred its rabies work in Latin America to the Global Alliance for Animals and People. VWB/VSF has built rabies prevention clinics into other projects – the effort in Laos and Cambodia is a good example where over 5,000 dogs and cats have been vaccinated in the last five years. In South Sudan, VWB/VSF's Community Animal Health Workers saw that people were being infected from the more than 50,000 dogs in Maban County. VWB/VSF was able to scrape together money to run a small campaign to vaccinate 400 animals – a good start, but not nearly enough to reach the level of herd immunity necessary to eliminate the threat.
For VWB/VSF, any focus on zoonotic diseases in the tropics must necessarily include attention to rabies. And while finding resources for rabies prevention may be a challenge, the disease will continue to be on VWB/VSF's radar as it expands its efforts around the world.