Against the backdrop of one person dying every 10 minutes from rabies and that treatment for those bitten can cost 40 days of wages in some countries, the United Nations announced today a new framework to eliminate human rabies and save tens of thousands of lives each year by ensuring ready availability of vaccines and treatment, and emphasizing mass dog vaccinations to tackle the disease at its source.
“Rabies is 100 per cent preventable through vaccination and timely immunization after exposure, but access to post-bite treatment is expensive and is not affordable in many Asian and African countries,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
“If we follow this more comprehensive approach, we can consign rabies to the history books,” Dr. Chan said in the WHO announcement.
The framework launched today by WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Alliance for the Control of Rabies, calls for three key actions – making human vaccines and antibodies affordable, ensuring people who get bitten receive prompt treatment, and mass dog vaccinations to tackle the viral disease at its source.
The announcement comes as WHO is hosting in Geneva, Switzerland today and Friday, an international conference of experts, donors, and veterinary and public health officials who will adopt the plan of action that is expected to deliver prompt post-exposure prophylaxis for all in rabies endemic areas, as well as a framework for scaling up sustained, large-scale dog vaccination.
“The first event of its kind, the conference will be instrumental in securing the required support to advance the goal of global elimination of rabies by 2030,” the target year of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations this year.
According to WHO, “tens of thousands of people die from rabies each year and, worldwide, 4 out of every 10 people bitten by suspected rabid dogs are children aged under the age of 15. One person dies every 10 minutes, with the greatest burden in Asia and Africa.”
“The cost of human vaccines to protect from rabies is, however, beyond the reach of many of those who may need it,” the agency said. “Treatment for people who are bitten can cost $40–50, representing an average of 40 days of wages in some of the affected countries.”
“Recognizing that human vaccination is currently not always affordable, the new framework emphasizes prevention through vaccinating dogs – whose bites cause 99 per cent of all human rabies cases,” it said. “A dog vaccine costs less than $1.”
Recent WHO-led pilot projects in the Philippines, South Africa, and Tanzania have demonstrated that mass vaccination of dogs can drastically reduce and eventually eliminate human rabies deaths.
But the new framework also calls for making more accessible human vaccines.
Bringing down the cost of human rabies vaccines and treatments will require strong international collaboration to make quality-assured vaccines and rabies immunoglobulin available to health centres in regions where rabies is endemic, the agency said.
Rabies is an infectious viral disease that is almost always fatal following the onset of clinical signs, according to WHO.