Nigeria Takes Global Action On World Rabies Day

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The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Sen. Abubakar Kyari (third from left) flanked by other ministers during the press briefing in Abuja.

As part of its celebration of World Rabies Day, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (FMAFS) has emphasised the need to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies in alignment with the global initiative to eradicate it by 2030.

The ministry made this emphasis during a joint press briefing with the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (FMoHSW) and the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMEnv).

During the press conference, the Minister of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Sen. Abubakar Kyari emphasised the need to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies in alignment with the global initiative to eradicate it by 2030. The ministerial press briefing, themed “All for 1-One Health for All,” highlighted the importance of collaboration, equality and the adoption of One Health by all stakeholders to strengthen overall health systems.

The minister underscored the significance of this year’s World Rabies Day as it marks the 17th anniversary of countries worldwide coming together to celebrate, raise awareness, and promote health. He emphasised that rabies is the deadliest disease known to humans, with an almost 100 per cent fatality rate if adequate prophylaxis is not administered immediately after exposure.

Furthermore, he explained that rabies is a zoonotic disease, affecting all warm-blooded animals, including humans, and is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. In Nigeria, dogs are responsible for approximately 99 per cent of these exposures. The minister noted that rabies has been reported in every state in Nigeria, occurring year-round and causing devastating outcomes in humans and livestock.

Senator Kyari highlighted that rabies is 100 per cent vaccine-preventable, emphasizing the importance of annual vaccination of dogs and cats and keeping them on a leash to eliminate rabies in Nigeria. The Federal Government has organised mass dog vaccination and vaccination of at-risk humans nationwide. Additionally, four states (Cross Rivers, Plateau, Kano and Borno states) have been selected for community engagement activities due to increased reports of rabies cases in these areas.

The Minister of State for the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Tunji Alausa explained that rabies is caused by the Lyssavirus, leading to progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The virus spreads through the saliva of infected animals when they bite or scratch another animal or human being. He stated that rabies is responsible for approximately 59,000 human deaths annually, with most victims residing in poor, rural communities in Africa and Asia.

Alausa emphasised that one person dies of rabies around the world every nine minutes, according to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC). The exact burden of rabies in humans is not known because mapping has not yet been conducted.

The Minister of State for the Federal Ministry of Environment, Dr. Iziaq Salako reported that most dogs are unlicensed, not regularly vaccinated, and roam freely in communities without proper supervision by their owners. Stray dogs are the primary sources of rabies infection, as they interact with each other, creating an exposure window for the virus transmission, especially while competing for waste food from bins and improperly disposed food waste in municipalities. Salako called for concerted efforts by relevant stakeholders and the general public to ensure proper waste management in communities and to identify, sensitise, register, and vaccinate stray animals/pets to mitigate the rising incidence of rabies.

In 2022, the three ministries – agriculture, health and environment – jointly launched a five-year National Strategic Plan (NDP) for the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies. The NDP serves as a guide for investing in rabies control towards its elimination. The support and dedication of the leadership and staff of these three Ministries, along with other key stakeholders, have facilitated the production of this document and created an enabling environment for the productive implementation of planned activities.

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