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.

Rabies clinic

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.


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