Vaccines and preventive measures can eliminate rabies across the world, particularly in Africa and Asia – continents that account for 95 percent of the 59,000 rabies deaths around world, leading experts claimed.
At present, India is the leading nation where about 36 percent of the world's rabies deaths occur annually, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed. In 2016, the country had 4,370 rabies deaths and the disease is the only one that had a 100 percent (mortality) rate in the country in 2017.
Rabies, a viral disease transmitted to humans through bites or scratches by infected animals, can have deadly impact on humans. In 2015, WHO proposed eliminating rabies by 2030, an uphill task for developing countries where prevalence of rabies is extremely high compared to that of developed nations.
At present, a common method to eradicate rabies is to cull dogs at a large scale as they are responsible for roughly 99 percent of rabies deaths.
Nearly 10 million dogs are culled each year in a bid to control rabies, translating into killing 1,200 canines every hour. "The vast majority of them are innocent," said Yao Yue, campaign manager of the Beijing-based Better Life for Dogs program of World Animal Protection.
"From global experience, culling is neither necessary nor effective for the prevention of rabies."
China's successful experiment that nearly ended rabies
China follows India with over 2,000 deaths on average reported each year for the past 10 years. In 2016, more than 592 rabies deaths were reported in the country, and a year later, the number marginally dipped to 502.
Around five years back a pilot project in three domestic regions of China eliminated dog bites and controlled the disease. The project was launched in Hancheng City in northwestern Shaanxi Province, Jieshou City in eastern Anhui Province and Tongzi County in southwestern Guizhou Province for large-scale dog vaccination from 2013 to 2015.
The average immunization rate reached 94 percent and "no cases of human death of rabies were reported when the program finished," according to World Animal Protection.
Insufficient immunization of dogs, extremely low public awareness, and poverty, according to leading experts, are three major causes leading to high prevalence of rabies in China.
"Large-scale dog vaccination is the most effective and sustainable method to prevent rabies," Yao claimed. "The spread of rabies can be effectively prevented as long as over 70 percent of the dogs in the region are vaccinated."
Education is another effective preventive measure to control rabies. "Simple messages that focus on bite avoidance, correct wound management and post-exposure prophylaxis as well as correctly washing dog-bite wounds and seeking medical help from doctors instead of local healers are crucial,” said Dr. Bernadette Abela-Ridder, team leader of the Neglected Zoonotic Diseases unit at WHO.
Poverty, according to experts, is third prominent reasons for large scale transmission of the diseases in rural areas. Poor infrastructure and veterinary services contribute to the menace. In rural areas, "people's livelihoods are also affected when livestock get rabies, a loss estimated at over 500 million US dollars per year," WHO estimated.
Major funding agencies and health groups have launched the “Zero by 30” initiative, which plans to ensure zero rabies death by the year 2030 to eliminate the disease.
“There is no reason for anyone to die of rabies in today's world, and rabies endemic countries have made its elimination a priority," said Professor Louis Nel, CEO of Global Alliance for Rabies Control.