Still a Serious Danger Around the World
In industrialized nations, widespread pet vaccination has led to a huge reduction in rabies in domestic animals, and human infection is rare. Yet worldwide, rabies still kills an estimated 70,000 people each year,mostly in rural parts of Asia and Africa. The vast majority of those human infections are caused by dog bites—so not surprisingly, children under age 15 are at particularly high risk.1
Once symptoms appear, rabies is 99.9% fatal. But there is a small and critical window of time following infection during which treatment can save a person's life. One program in Bangladesh is recruiting local youth to help make sure its most at-risk communities know the facts about rabies treatment and prevention.
"Little Doctors" Spread the Word
Who are young children most likely to listen to? Their friends, of course. So in 2011 Bangladeshi authorities, in partnership with several NGOs, launched the "Little Doctors" program to leverage the idea of child-to-child education. In schools around the country, students aged 8 to 10 years are recruited and trained on critical health issues such as hygiene, nutrition, and infectious diseases. In turn, these Little Doctors—today numbering more than 1.5 million!—educate their peers at school and in the wider community.
These Little Doctors are an inspiration to their classmates, and their messages are reaching beyond the schools and helping to improve community healthDr. Be-Nazir Ahmed, Chairperson, Rabies in Asia, Bangladesh Chapter
Rabies is an important initiative within the Little Doctors program. Thanks to these young educators, more and more children in Bangladesh now know the essentials of protecting themselves against the disease: avoid contact with stray dogs, and if bitten, take prompt action by washing the wound with soap and water for 15 minutes, then heading straight to a local hospital for vaccination. And who knows how many of those "Little Doctors" will grow up to be "Big Doctors" one day, perhaps with a special interest in public health or veterinary medicine.
Vaccinating Dogs: the Most Effective and Humane Approach
Changing human behavior is just one part of the rabies prevention puzzle. Equally important are efforts to eliminate the disease in its most common source: dogs. Rabies is 100% preventable through vaccination, and studies have shown that mass dog vaccination campaigns are highly effective at reducing, and even eliminating, the incidence of rabies in local dog populations—thus protecting human populations as well. It's also a humane solution, saving millions of dogs from unnecessary deaths by governments and individuals who make a misguided attempt to control the disease. The fact is, killing dogs doesn't effectively stop the spread of rabies; studies have shown that only mass vaccination achieves that goal.2
The control and elimination of rabies in dogs through vaccination remains the only cost-effective way to sustainably protect humans from contracting the diseaseWorld Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
In Bangladesh, Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health and infectious disease specialist, is one of the country's leading champions of rabies prevention programs and has conducted many programs to administer Merial's rabies vaccines to local dogs. In conjunction with these mass vaccination initiatives, Professor Ahmed also meets with government officials of Bangladeshi cities and municipalities to sign Memorandums of Understanding, pledging formally and in writing to stop the killing of dogs.
Professor Ahmed's efforts, and those of the "Little Doctors," are going a long way to promote healthy and harmonious lives for the people and dogs of Bangladesh, and Merial is immensely proud that our vaccines play a part in this story.
1. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), www.oie.int/en/animal-health-in-the-world/rabies-portal/about-rabies
2. World Animal Protection, booklet “Controlling rabies: One humane solution, three reasons why”