Breakthrough in the battle against India’s oldest known disease

Post by

Jaigar O'Neill

June 23rd 2021

Goa has become the first Indian state to declare state-wide control of rabies.

The announcement from the Government of Goa comes after not one person has died of rabies across the state since 2018. In a country with 4.5 million rabies exposures, a third of the world's human rabies deaths, and an unrecorded number of dog's lives lost every year, it's a massive win.

Since 2013, we've worked with the state government to vaccinate dogs, educate those at-risk, and set up critical surveillance to stop rabies in its tracks. It's led to low incidences of rabies across the state, and Goa being declared a Rabies Controlled Area.

What does it mean?

The declaration means that the state government has control of the rabies virus, in both humans and dogs, and now has the authority to enforce dog vaccination and reporting of suspect rabies cases. It's the first Indian state to achieve this.

Stringent measures, which have never been implemented in India before, will now be put in place to stop rabies from re-emerging. Unvaccinated animals will be prevented from entering the state via road, ship, air, or train, pet owners within Goa will be questioned about the vaccination status of their animals, and canine vaccines will be made available - equally accessible and affordable - to all pet owners.

How did we get here?

Working as a vet in some of the world's toughest places, Luke, our founder and CEO, had seen the devastating effects of rabies on people and animals, and was determined to do something about it.

With dogs being the reservoir of the disease, he knew that by eliminating rabies from dogs, he could prevent it from being transmitted to people. As a vet, he could save the lives of people too.

In 2013, Luke set our team the initial challenge: to vaccinate 50,000 dogs against rabies in 30 days across the Indian state of Goa. We got laughed at, no one thought we could do it. But with the right team, Luke knew anything was possible.

Over 500 vets from 16 different countries arrived in India - where a third of the world's human rabies cases occur - to volunteer alongside local vets, animal handlers, and skilled dog catchers. Working together, we caught and vaccinated as many dogs as we could. And we smashed it: over 63,000 vaccinated dogs in 30 days.

At this time, our surveillance teams were picking up a rabid dog almost every three days in Goa. A horrifying fact, considering one bite - or even a lick to broken skin - from an infected dog could lead to an unimaginable death.

Fast-forward to today, after administering 540,593 rabies vaccinations to dogs, educating nearly 1 million people in dog bite prevention, and setting up 24-hour rabies surveillance, including an emergency hotline, rapid response team, and a support team for dog bite victims, we've been able to keep rabies off the streets of Goa.

Thanks to all this hard work, not one person has died of rabies in Goa since 2018.

State-wide rabies control has been the result of a global collaborative effort. Animal welfare charity Dogs Trust Worldwide, global health care company MSD Animal Health, and the University of Edinburgh have contributed massively to the achievement through funding campaigns, donating canine vaccines, and conducting research based on real-time data collected on the ground to guide our work in Goa. Whilst vets, veterinary nurses, and people from non-veterinary background across the world have volunteered their time to support our vaccination teams in administering vaccinations to canines in at-risk communities.

What does that mean for the future?

The best part is that this breakthrough in the battle against one of the world's oldest known diseases will give people hope.

The people of Goa will take pride in what their state has managed to achieve and take action to support rabies control. Other states will see that Goa has made rabies control possible in India, and be encouraged to do the same. Endemic countries across the world will be inspired by the movement in India - the country that carries the greatest burden from rabies - and understand how they too can save the lives of people and dogs.

This change in Goa is a momentous moment in the fight against rabies, in India and across the world. However, there is still a lot of work to do, to stop rabies from re-emerging in Goa and declare it rabies-free.

How You Can Help

For millennia, rabies has caused untold pain, suffering, and death. But it can be defeated, and for the state of Goa, we're one step closer. If you can, please donate today, and help us continue this life-saving work in the communities that need it most.

A one-off gift will go directly where it's needed most - saving the lives of people and dogs in rabies hotspots worldwide.

A regular gift will help us safely catch, vaccinate, and release thousands of dogs every month, ensuring strays too can live a life free from rabies.

Find out about all the ways you can support us, from volunteering to fundraising to signing our pledge.