Rabies, 100% Preventable – WHO 

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on the Nigerian government to intensify public awareness and education on rabies, as the disease, which is 99 per cent fatal, is also 100 per cent preventable. 

The WHO country representative, Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, made the call at the launch of the National Strategic Plan for Elimination of Dog-Mediated Human Rabies today (September 26, 2022) in Abuja. 

Mulombo, represented by Dr. Alex Chimbaru said there is also the need for joint surveillance and information-sharing, capacity-building of health workers, improved resources for diagnosis, vaccination and treatment and risk communication in the country.  

He said that the WHO would like to reiterate its commitment to supporting the implementation of this National Strategic Plan (NPS) which addresses the gaps and issues highlighted. 

Mulombo pointed out that the united collaborative spirit would continue throughout the life of the strategic plan and beyond, as the country works toward eliminating rabies in Nigeria by 2030.

He said that rabies, a highly infectious disease of all warm-blooded animals and man, remains one of the most important zoonotic and neglected tropical diseases (NTD) in Nigeria. 

“In 2018, the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) database had ranked the disease as the number one zoonotic infection in Nigeria and, in 2022, during the just concluded One Health zoonotic disease re-prioritisation in Nigeria – which WHO supported – rabies was listed among the top 10 prioritised zoonotic diseases,” Mulombo said. 

He said that the fight against rabies in the country has been a long and tedious one since it was first reported in 1912, up until recently documented spurious cases in some Nigerian states, like Gombe and Enugu. 

“The disease has been reported in a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and wildlife. 

“However, unvaccinated dogs remain the main source of infection affecting several suspected and confirmed human cases, especially in school children and women. Most of these cases have resulted in fatalities. 

“Now, experts report that rabies is on the increase and there is a need for urgent One Health action to curb its spread and eliminate the disease. 

Mulombo, however, assured that WHO Country Office in the country has continued to play an important role in supporting ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to work towards the eradication of the disease. 

He said that the occurrence of rabies in the country represents the larger issue of the continued prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that has caused a significant number of mortalities, with even more morbidities and poor livelihoods. 

Mulombo said that the core drivers of NTD prevalence – particularly poor health systems and inadequate policy frameworks – limit efforts to combat these diseases effectively. 

“In light of this, there is a need for Nigeria to position and align itself with global guidelines such as the newly established 2021-2030 roadmap for all neglected tropical diseases (rabies inclusive) which sets global targets and milestones to prevent, control, eliminate or eradicate 20 NTDs by 2030. 

“We hereby use this opportunity to make an urgent call for concerted advocacy efforts and investments from the government and private sector to address these NTDs. 

“In the One Health spirit, we are also committed to working with other UN agencies (FAO, OIE, UNICEF etc.) to implement the One Health approach to address these NTDs, including rabies and we look forward to tripartite MDAs and partners leveraging each other’s strengths, expertise and resources to collaborate effectively to doing the same,” he explained. 

The national coordinator, neglected tropical diseases, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Nse Akpan said that the country is still confronted by the challenges posed by 15 out of the 20 NTDs listed by the WHO.

Akpan said that rabies infection, caused by the rhabdovirus, is often transmitted to humans through the bites of infected animals (especially dogs). 

“Without timely and effective post-exposure prophylaxis, the disease can kill 100 per cent of its infected victims,” he said. 

According to him, this is the highest case-fatality rate of all infectious diseases in humans. Fortunately, despite the high case fatality of the disease, rabies is 100 per cent preventable through the vaccination of animals and humans at risk. 

Also speaking, senior program officer II TB &RCCE, Breakthrough Action Nigeria (BA-N), Dr. Joseph Edor said the organisation supports the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and other One Health stakeholders in the development of the national strategic plan. 

“As a social behavioural change organisation, BA-N has supported the development of communication materials about rabies prevention and control to increase awareness and education about rabies.

“Increasing public awareness and education about rabies was identified as a key strategy in the effort to eliminate dog-mediated human rabies by 2030,” he said.

Racheal Abujah
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