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Five immunizations that are changing the world

Since the development of the first vaccines 200 years ago, we’ve witnessed a period of almost continuous scientific breakthrough and innovation in the field. The result has been dramatic improvements in public health and the eradication of some truly horrific diseases, such as smallpox and rinderpest.

Here, we take a look at the five immunizations that are changing the world right now and dramatically improving the health of both humans and animals.

1. Rabies

By the end of today, 160 people will die from rabies. By the end of the year, the disease will kill 59,000 people around the world. Most victims will be children in vulnerable communities across Africa and Asia.  

Each one of these deaths is preventable. Rabies is commonly contracted from the bite of an infected dog. Coordinated dog vaccination campaigns that target at-risk populations can completely eradicate the disease.

It is being achieved in areas like Latin America, where human rabies transmitted by dogs is in the process of being eliminated. Since the launch in 1983 of a regional programme for the elimination of rabies transmitted by dogs, there has been a 95% reduction in the number of human cases and 98% in dogs in the Americas to date.

2. Brucellosis

Brucellosis is ranked among the most economically significant zoonoses globally – the total yearly cost of the disease is estimated to be $452 million USD.. It causes life-long, chronic issues in animals and if spread to people, it can even kill.  

Approximately 500,000 new human cases are reported each year. This is usually from exposure to sick animals, but infections can also occur from contaminated dairy products. The result can be persistent, debilitating symptoms that last for years, including heart problems, organ inflammation, nervous system infections, fatigue and joint pain. There is no human vaccine, so, the most effective prevention is to stop bruscellosis in animals. 

Thankfully, an animal vaccination to prevent Brucellosis is available. It has successfully wiped out the disease in areas like North America and Europe, dramatically improving farmers health and livelihoods.

However, the vaccine is not effective against the Bruscellosis strains that blight Africa and South Asia. This is why organizations like GALVmed are leading the charge to develop a new immunization for this strain . When successful, this will improve the health of rural communities and can help lift them out of poverty.

3. Peste des petits ruminant (PPR)

Some 30 million animals are affected by PPR globally and 5.4 billion people live in areas affected by PPR – over 3/4ths of the world population. The annual economic impact of PPR is between $1.2 billion – $1.7 billion USD, losses that are a result of animal deaths, reduced production, and the cost of fighting the disease.  

Because it is women who are predominantly involved in raising and caring for ruminants in many regions, PPR slashes their earning potential and worsens gender issues. The eradication of PPR therefore has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of rural farmers and drastically increase opportunities for women in the developing world.  

Vaccination against PPR is available and we are working towards eradication. In a bid to rid the world of the disease, the OIE and the FAO established a joint strategy for control and eradication of PPR, with the goal to eradicate the disease by 2030.  

Over 50 countries have already been declared PPR free.  Additional countries are working towards this goal and are seeing their farmers become more resilient as a result.

4.Foot and mouth disease (FMD)

Foot and Mouth Disease is a highly contagious virus affecting cattle and swine as well as sheep, goats, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. The disease is typically found in several parts of Asia, most of Africa and the Middle East. 

In susceptible populations, morbidity rates can approach 100% . This means when an outbreak occurs, the entire herd will often die. This is devastating to farmers and the local economy. These animals are an investment and critical to the livelihood of their owners. 

There is no cure for FMD, however, it can be prevented; a vaccine does exist. Many countries are leading vaccination campaigns to control FMD in regions where it is endemic. This is stopping the disease from enacting economic ruin, which allows farmers to provide for their families and communities.

For example, a 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in UK resulted in financial losses of more than £8billion . These losses are not tenable for farming communities and vaccines can help prevent them.

5. Canine Distemper

An effective vaccination for Canine Distemper was introduced in the 1950s . Before this time, Canine Distemper could spread like wildlife in a region until every dog succumbed to the disease. Considering the central role of pets in many families, this would shake the foundations of communities.

Common symptoms include fever, GI and respiratory catarrh, and frequently pneumonic and neurologic complications. It’s highly contagious and can invade the nervous system, which can lead to death.

Thanks to effective vaccination programmes, Canine Distemper is now extremely rare in many parts of the developed world, but it remains a risk to dogs who do not have up-to-date vaccinations and puppies that have been bred without the correct care. Pockets of infection still exist globally, especially in large cities where there are many unvaccinated dogs. There are some unique cases, like Finland, where the disease is still a big killer of dogs.

While there is still work to do to eradicate Canine Distemper globally, the discovery of a successful vaccination has ensured that generations of people have enjoyed healthy, happy lives with their pets, safe in the knowledge that the disease is no longer a lurking menace for their pet.

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