University of Edinburgh: Vaccine campaign to free Indian state from rabies

An Indian state could soon be free of rabies, following the success of a campaign to vaccinate dogs in the region.

Goa is on track to eliminate the disease, following the seven-year charity effort, according to a study by the Government of Goa, UK based charity Mission Rabies and the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and Roslin Institute.

Lessons learned during this campaign will be vital in ongoing efforts against rabies. The approach could be applied in other states, preventing the death of millions of people.

Co-ordinated approach
Efforts by a team on the ground involved the use of smartphones to capture large quantities of data on stray dogs. This guided efforts to create pop-up clinics and vaccination points where they were most needed, to prevent the spread of the disease to humans from dog bites.

The work enabled Goa to be declared a rabies controlled state in 2021, the first of its kind in India, following three years without any human deaths from rabies.

Their latest study, published in Nature Communications, finds that Goa is on track to eliminate the disease.

One Health
The team’s approach used the principles of One Health – considering human, animal and environmental health all together – to efficiently target infection.

Their program consisted of three core areas of activity – dog vaccination, rabies education, and intensified human and animal rabies surveillance.

Dog vaccination is an effective rabies prevention measure, but widespread vaccination campaigns are challenging in settings such as India, which have large free-roaming dog populations.

In all, the campaign vaccinated more than 95,000 dogs, and enabled rabies education teams to reach 150,000 children each year.

Data from this paper clearly demonstrates that targeted canine vaccination campaigns, alongside education and surveillance not only eliminates rabies, but does so in a cost effective and efficient way, that relieves the financial burden faced by communities impacted by rabies.

Professor Richard Mellanby
Chair of Comparative Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Partnership working
Work was been carried out in India by Mission Rabies, the Government of Goa, University of Edinburgh, Dogs Trust Worldwide, MSD and other partners.

The World Health Organization and United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization have set a target for global dog-mediated human rabies elimination by 2030, but examples of large-scale dog vaccination programs demonstrating elimination remain limited in Africa and Asia.

Our approach of using data gathered on the ground combined with a One Health perspective has proved effective in reducing the impact of rabies in Goa. By vaccinating dogs, we directly benefit the health of people, with the overall result that Goa is now in line to become rabies-free.

Dr Stella Mazeri
Chancellor’s Fellow, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Our custom-built app was a game-changer in campaign coordination and monitoring. The remote vaccination workforce could be directed with unprecedented spatial precision, targeting dog populations more effectively to eliminate the virus in dogs and people.

Dr Andrew Gibson
Director of Strategic Research at Mission Rabies

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