One of the main focuses at this year’s WSAVA World Congress was a series of lectures and roundtable discussions led by experts in the fight against rabies in Asia.
To coincide with World Rabies Day, recognized annually on September 28, the role of the “vaccinated dog as a soldier in the fight against rabies” was a notable theme at this year’s World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) World Congress in Singapore. While rabies is not recognized as a major zoonotic concern in the United States, that is not a shared notion in other parts of the world.
An estimated 59,000 people are killed annually by canine rabies, primarily in Asia and Africa, but also in some parts of Latin America. Of these fatalities, 99% are caused by bites from infected dogs, with 40% of those killed being children under the age of 15 years. Furthermore, a vast majority of these deaths (80%) take place in rural areas, where levels of deprivation are highest and education about safely interacting with dogs and rabies prevention is poor. These statistics underscore the need for promoting rabies education in endemic areas.
At the WSAVA event, lectures were delivered by rabies experts including, Ronello Abila, DVM, the sub-regional representative for South-East Asia of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); Sarah Jayme, DVM, Asia representative from the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC); and Sanipa Suradhat, DVM, PhD, a professor from the department of veterinary microbiology at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. These presenters were later joined by Nalinika Obeyesekere, Bsc, BVSc, MSc, founder of the Blue Paw Trust in Sri Lanka, and Joy Santos, DVM, from the Philippine Animal Hospital Association to field questions about the lectures from delegates in attendance.
To start, Dr. Jayme emphasized that while rabies infection can be fatal, it is 100% preventable. She referred to it as the perfect example of the importance of taking a One Health approach to prevention. If 70% of dogs can be vaccinated, it creates a level of herd immunity, which breaks the transmission cycle of the disease. It is also much more cost-effective to vaccinate dogs at approximately $4 per dog, compared with vaccinating people against rabies at $100 per person.
Dr. Jayme relayed that GARC is working as part of the United Against Rabies collaboration—comprised of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, OIE, and GARC—to bring an end to canine-mediated human deaths from rabies by 2030. One of the focal points of the group’s plan includes maximizing the use of existing tools and mechanisms to raise awareness and enhance education, increase the effectiveness of canine rabies vaccinations, and ensure timely access to health care and human vaccines.
Building upon Dr. Jayme’s lecture, Dr. Suradhat updated WSAVA delegates on the latest science and management factors affecting rabies vaccination. She highlighted that significant progress is being made in Latin America, thanks to a focus on canine vaccinations and that, as a result, a downward trend in human cases was distinguishable. In Africa and Asia, however, overall problems with the level of vaccine coverage remain. This is despite the elimination of rabies in Bali for a period of time.
Since 1995, Dr. Jayme reported, Thailand had made great strides in tackling rabies through focusing on canine vaccination but, 3 years ago, an issue related to vaccine distribution policy and a lack of public awareness had led to significant reduction in vaccine coverage. As a result, rabies cases are once again on the rise.
In summing up the event’s lectures, Emeritus Professor and WSAVA Executive Board member Michael Day, BSc, BVMS, PhD, DSc, DiplECVP, FASM, FRCPath, FRCVS, reminded delegates that the organization supports rabies control through its One Health Committee, its Vaccination Guidelines Group, and the WSAVA charitable foundation’s African Small Companion Animal Network project. Additionally, WSAVA is affiliated with OIE and their shared goal of achieving the global elimination of canine rabies by 2030.