Intensify awareness, preventive measures on Rabies, WHO urges FG

The World Health Organisation has called on the Federal Government to intensify public awareness and education on rabies, which it says is 99.9 per cent fatal but 100 per cent preventable.

The WHO’s Country representative, Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, made the call at the launch of the National Strategic Plan for the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies, in Abuja on Monday.

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

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

He said the collaborative spirit would continue throughout the implementation of the strategic plan and beyond, as the country worked towards achieving the goal of eliminating rabies by 2030.

He said rabies, a highly infectious disease, remained one of the most important zoonotic and Neglected Tropical Diseases in Nigeria.

“In 2018, the World Animal Health Information System 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,” he said.

He said the fight against rabies in the country had been a long and tedious one since it was first reported in 1912.

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

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“However, unvaccinated dogs remain the main source of infection affecting several suspected and confirmed human cases, especially in school children and women. And 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,” he said.

He said the WHO Country Office had continued to play an important role in supporting Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to work towards the eradication of the disease.

He added that the occurrence of rabies in the country represented the larger issue of the continued prevalence of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that had caused high mortalities, with even more morbidities and poor livelihoods.

Mulombo said the core drivers of NTD prevalence – particularly poor health systems and inadequate policy frameworks – limited 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 on each other’s strengths, expertise, and resources to collaborate effectively to doing the same,” he explained.

Mr. Nse Akpan, National Coordinator of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Federal Ministry of Health, said the country was still confronted by the challenges posed by 15 out of the 20 NTDs listed by the WHO.

Akpan said rabies infection, caused by a Rhabdovirus, was 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, he said despite the high case fatality of the disease, rabies was 100 per cent preventable through the vaccination of animals and humans at risk.

Also speaking, Dr. Joseph Edor, Senior Programme Officer II TB &RCCE. Breakthrough ACTION, Nigeria, said BA-N supported the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and other One Health stakeholders in the development of the National Strategic Plan.

Edit said the organisation provided technical assistance and contributions during planning meetings before and during the validation workshop from Sept. 12-16, 2022.

“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.

He stated that this was made possible by USAID, through its

global health security support in Nigeria.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that dog-mediated rabies kills tens of thousands of people each year in India, representing one-third of the estimated global rabies burden.

Whilst the WHO, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) have set a target for global dog-mediated human rabies elimination by 2030, examples of large-scale dog vaccination programmes show that elimination remains limited in Africa and Asia. 

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