-Agric. Minister Discloses
The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr. Abu Bakarr Karim during the commemoration of World Rabies Day (WRD), has stated that 60,000 people died annually as a result of Rabies across 150 countrieswith 95% of cases occurring in Africa and Asia.
Mr. Karim went on to say that 95% of rabies cases are as a result of bites from infected dogs, adding that these often occurred within the rural population.
He continued by stating that Dogs that are living together with humans often share mutual benefits; such as feeding, housing and animals in turn provides companionship, security and other assistance.
“Some dogs are even trained to detect diseases in humans and protect livestock. Despite these benefits, dogs can be a nuisance in communities especially when they are left to roam freely and not taking proper care of,” he said, adding that Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects man and animals. Minister Karim further added that between 55,000-60,000 human deaths annually occurred across 150 countries with 95% of cases occurring in Africa and Asia.
The minister averred that because the issue is being under reported, it is widely believed that existing figures areunderestimated.
“Dog-transmitted rabies has been eliminated in several countries of the world, but the disease is still largely endemic and uncontrolled across West Africa and Sierra Leone inclusive. Rabies in animals is 100% preventable through vaccinations,” he said, noting that the Government of Sierra Leone has been conducting annual mass vaccination campaigns against rabies in cats and dogs in the country. He stressed that coverages of rabies are still very low due to logistical challenges.
“I am confident that this meeting will propose innovations and suggest practical ways through which our country and the Western African Region in general can fight this scourge and realize the Global goal of rabies elimination by 2030 amidst COVID-19 pandemics,” he said, adding by pledging the commitment of the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to ensure that rabies is eradicated in Sierra Leone by 2030.
Fatima Bockarie representing Chief of Party of Breakthrough ACTION is implementing the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) program in efforts to accelerate countries progress towards implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR), by enhancing capacities to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats and achieve measurable targets.
“In Sierra Leone, Breakthrough ACTION is leading the United States Agency for International Development Social and Behavior Change (SBC) program that seeks to effectively address high-risk behaviors associated with priority zoonotic diseases, focusing mainly on animal bites and rabies. As we observe World Rabies Day this year with the theme: rabies — facts not fear, this underscores Breakthrough ACTION’s commitment and focus in using evidence/facts in developing and implementing social and behavior change interventions,” she said.
She averred that a formative research and baseline assessment on rabies carried out in 2018 in Bombali district guided the development and roll out of Breakthrough ACTION’s animal bites and rabies campaign nationally. She said that Key facts from this study showed that there was high awareness rate (79%) and low general knowledge of rabies (34%), and knowledge of transmission variable, and high perception of rabies prevention behaviors, mostly saying to kill the rabid dog.
“Armed with the facts on risk perception and prevention behaviors, rabies awareness and knowledge, perceived community needs, etc., the campaign was better prepared to engage communities and change people’s behavior by developing and sharing factual messages about rabies and at the same time, countering perceived fears and myths about dog bites and rabies.”
WHO Country Representative Dr. Steven Shongwe averred that the high cost of treating rabies post-exposure prophylaxis can be a catastrophic financial burden on affected families whose average daily income is around $1-2 per person is a one of the leading causes of the continued burden of the disease.
Dr. Shongwe noted that despite the virulent nature of the disease, it is preventable. Reduction in human rabies cases is possible and achievable through a combination of interventions including regulated and responsible pet ownership, mass vaccination of domestic animals (mainly dogs), improved access to pre and post exposure prophylaxis for humans, increased rabies surveillance and sustained public awareness. These interventions are within their reach at the individual and institutional levels which they can use to eliminate this dreaded disease.
“In December 2015, a global framework to reach zero human rabies deaths by 2030 was launched by WHO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE ), in collaboration with FAO and the (Global Alliance for Rabies Control. This initiative marks the first time that both the human and animal health sectors have come together to adopt a common strategy against this devastating and massively neglected disease. “
The WHO Rep averred that to eliminate rabies from the dog population in an endemic setting, at least 70% of the dog population needs to be vaccinated during an annual rabies vaccination program.
FAO Representative Madam Nyabenyi Tito Tipo says rabies is endemic in Sierra Leone and has been ranked as one of the top priority zoonotic diseases in the country. District Livestock Officers collected suspected rabies samples from suspect dogs showing furious rabies signs and submitted to the Central Veterinary Laboratory for rabies confirmation. The samples were tested for the presence of rabies virus by using rapid antigen test for rabies.
“The CVL further ran advanced confirmatory diagnostic test using Fluorescent Antibody Test (FAT) of which four returned positive test results. The laboratory used OIE gold standard test and staff had been trained ensuring testing was carried out accurately. Since this is the first time in many years the CVL has confirmed dog rabies, we shipped the samples to OIE reference laboratory for Rabies in France (ANSES) toconfirm our results which came back positive and for quality assurance.”
The Coordinator of One Health Mr. Joseph Bunting Graden said more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases and 60% of known human infectious diseases are transmitted from animals. Among these zoonoses, rabies is endemic and of utmost public health significance due to its lethality; with one of the highest lethality rates amongst infectious diseases.
“Annually it accounts for more than 60,000 human deaths globally and largely caused by dog bites; approximately: 95% of which occur in Asia and Africa. The proportion/fraction of the global burden that are lost annually due to rabies in Sierra Leone is yet unknown, this is a fact. So knowing the unknown is also a FACT: Rabies, a viral zoonotic disease is among the neglected infectious diseases.”
He said rabies is a classic ‘One Health” challenges and more than 99% of these deaths arise from exposure to a rabid dog. One Health programs recognize that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. Embracing a One Health approach focuses on outbreak management of rabies in both human and animals.
Mr. Bunting Graden noted that rabies is a highly infectious disease that can cause 100% fatality in all persons with clinical signs. It is estimated that more than 55.000 people die from the disease every year and a greater majority of these deaths – nearly 9 out of every 10 cases of human deaths – occur in Asia and Africa. Rabies death can have a lasting traumatic effect on family members and the community. It can also expose families and communities to economic challenges.
“A very important aspect to keep in mind also is that it is estimated that between 30% and 60% of victims of dog bites are children under the age of 15.”
During the vaccination process at Atlantic, Lumley Beach, Dr Mohamed Vandi the Director of Public Health admonish all to come with their dogs for vaccination as he said when the dogs are vaccinated the chances of spreading rabies minimize drastically.
Many dogs were vaccinated and Dr Jalloh who has been working with animals for 30 years said more needs to be done as the Ministry of Information and Finance to always be part of the commemoration.