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Six ways we’ll reach zero by 2030

‘For the first time in history, the world has a goal to eliminate human rabies deaths by 2030’ – it’s a powerful statement published in 2018 by the ground-breaking collaborative initiative, United Against Rabies. It sees the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), working together in a globally unified effort to achieve zero deaths from dog-mediated rabies by 2030.

With just ten years to go, we take a look at the global plan to save 59,000 human rabies deaths every year.

Raising awareness of rabies

Educating communities and raising awareness of the rabies risk in affected countries remains one of the most effective ways to help protect people and children. Building on the success of global awareness campaigns, World Rabies Day and End Rabies Now, efforts are focusing on bite prevention campaigns, helping people to recognize the signs of rabies in animals and humans and understanding what action to take.

Vaccinating dogs to protect people

Dog vaccination is a highly effective and affordable tool in the fight against rabies, costing $4 per vaccine against $108 per human vaccine. Furthermore, by vaccinating just 70% of the dog community, it can achieve herd immunity and prevent transmission to humans.

By educating dog owners on responsible ownership and the importance of canine rabies vaccines, it can be instrumental in preventing its spread. For this to happen, enough vaccines need to be made available for dogs and humans. United Against Rabies is helping countries to track, forecast and budget for the number of vaccines they need each year. The 2019 update reported the OIE Rabies Bank had secured delivery of over two million rabies vaccines to 13 countries.

Enhancing surveillance

A first step to understanding the impact of rabies is recording the number of cases in both animals and humans. Many countries report rabies cases differently and in some cases not at all. United Against Rabies will strengthen veterinary services to enhance monitoring and recording of dog rabies cases and vaccination coverage and improve reporting of human cases. Such data will enable greater surveillance of the disease and provide evidence of the impact of interventions.

A One Health approach

United Against Rabies is helping countries to build realistic and achievable plans through a One Health approach. It is putting structures in place that require the integration of both human and animal health professionals, including training, workshops and working groups.

Just a year in, healthcare professionals from 79 per cent of affected countries had been trained about human rabies prevention. Awareness of rabies was also growing, the number of community figures completing a course through the Rabies Educator Certificates grew to 5,885 across 107 countries. These creating lasting impact as it’s estimated that each graduate will contact between 10 to 100 people in the community, increasing its reach.

Harnessing digital technology

Technology plays an important role in enabling greater access to these resources. United Against Rabies aims to tap into digital health technology to stimulate innovation across vaccination strategies, diagnostics and supply chains to meet existing needs. One particular focus is the development of a reliable, safe, sensitive point-of-care diagnostic tool that could detect viral infection in humans and animals after a bite exposure. This would overcome the need for lab testing and sophisticated resources.

Sustaining commitment

Eradicating a disease takes commitment and patience right up to the finish line. United Against Rabies aims to keep it high on the political agenda, so partners and private sectors continue to invest in these life-saving strategies.

And there have been recent success stories; Mexico has been declared free from rabies, becoming the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO for eliminating dog-transmitted rabies as a public health problem. Such case studies enable stakeholders to follow progress and see that Zero by 30 is possible when we all work together.