Every time I hear stories that authorities responsible for veterinary affairs plan to implement rabies vaccination campaigns, I get excited. It is exciting because, first and foremost, I am a professional disease control and prevention officer by training and profession. Even though I am currently not directly involved in prevention and control of zoonoses, this exercise still falls under a specialised scientific field which I studied. I, of course, find myself at times educating and informing others on the same, either directly or indirectly.
If you are an ardent follower of this column or just came across it by chance, by the end of reading this piece I will have educated or informed you on some aspects of this dangerous disease, rabies. As for some programme managers for rabies prevention and control, you will have learnt one or two things which you will need to improve on next time you plan such exercises.
Secondly, I like such news, just as a human being who finds myself in an environment full of dogs, thereby making it either aesthetically bad and even dangerous if the issues of rabies are anything to go by.
I am not sure if every Jim and Jack is really aware about rabies as a zoonotic disease. For non-professional, a zoonotic disease is defined as any disease which is transmissible/communicable between animals and man. Actually, rabies is one of the most dangerous zoonotic diseases because it has no cure. This is of course what is currently expected as far as my knowledge is concerned; no viral disease has a cure currently.
While we have had a chance that our medical and pharmaceutical scientists have been able to find life prolonging drugs for some viral diseases, it has not happened for diseases like rabies. The point of knowledge is here is that, once an individual develops rabies, he/she dies, and within a few days. Worse still the process of dying is pathetic, not worthy witnessing. I have witnessed one while working as an environmental health intern at Ntchisi District Hospital. While in our office, I heard a person producing dog-like sounds. He could not drink any water and hated any sound of an opened tap, hence the disease is also called hydrophobia. I was told by my then supervisor, that he had rabies.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, you can see from here that rabies is one of bad diseases. Worse still, its vaccine is expensive and not readily available in common government hospitals.
That is why whenever I hear of rabies vaccination campaigns I feel good that as a country there are some measure we are taking to protect the citizenry.
However, I am not satisfied with the measures taken by those responsible for such veterinary services. Why? Vaccination of dogs is just one of several activities to be undertaken if we are to effectively control rabies.
There are two other activities which are neglected but if undertaken are expected to provide synergistic impacts on the general objective of the exercise. The first one is the control of stray dogs. Stray dogs will never be vaccinated and will still be a source of rabies, especially to people. Why has killing of stray dogs stopped?
Secondly, I hear there is a minimum of two dogs to be kept per household. Now, why is it that some households keep more dogs? Actually, these households are sources of stray dogs we meet in the streets. It’s only when a rabies vaccination campaign is supported with killing of stray dogs and enforcing two dogs per household that the programme can be effective.