Fighting Disease Amongst a Global Pandemic

Post by

Jaigar O'Neill

August 26th 2020

Malawi is among the world’s hotspots for rabies and the deadly disease poses a huge burden to the country. 
To protect communities from the disastrous impact of rabies, every year, our team runs mass canine vaccination campaigns in the city of Blantyre and surrounding districts – an area that’s recorded the highest incidences of child rabies death across the whole of Africa, occurring at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
This year is no different.
Since we received the go-ahead from government health officials in July, our teams have been tackling the disease head-on. We’ve set up free vaccination clinics in central locations to give all pet owners access to the life-saving vaccine. By attending each year, the local people can help protect not just their pets, but their loved ones and the entire community.
In the last eight weeks alone, we’ve vaccinated over 79,557 dogs in southern Malawi, and we’re not done yet!
But with the COVID-19 outbreak, our teams are having to adapt quickly and work harder than ever. They’re having to strictly follow government guidance to simultaneously protect communities from two deadly viruses – rabies and now coronavirus. Because in places like Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, continuing the fight against rabies isn’t optional, it’s essential.
Our teams are taking all the preventative measures whilst vaccinating as many dogs as possible: handwashing stations, face masks for all staff, social-distanced lines, as well as all vaccinations, are being given outside.
And it’s a sight to see! Queues of people with their four-legged companions, either by their side, in their arms, or even piled into a wheelbarrow, patiently waiting for their turn with our vaccination team.
So, what about the vaccine itself? The canine vaccine we use is Nobivac Rabies, a world-leading vaccine that is generously donated by MSD Animal Health. Today, more than 1.3 million vaccines have been donated and administered by our fast-paced teams of veterinarians and volunteers, to eliminate the disease in the world’s most at-risk regions.
But, what happens for the rest of the year? Year-round, the Blantyre SPCA, a veterinary clinic run by our sister charity Worldwide Veterinary Service, administers free rabies vaccinations, as well as all other veterinary treatment and care.
The locals know this well, and that’s why this (image below) is a very common sight outside the clinic at 8:00am: a group of up to 20 children who’d walked from nearby communities with their dogs, ready for rabies vaccinations.
One of the dogs from the group was ‘Simba,’ a very friendly Malawian dog who’d sadly been injured the week before, sustaining a broken tibia. She was admitted to the clinic where the veterinary team took x-rays and operated on her the very next day, inserting a surgical pin into the damaged bone to hold it in correct alignment. As there was some rotational instability evident, the team decided to keep her in the kennels under close observation, until she was ready to return home.
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Tithestse chiwewe, which translates to let us end rabies (in Chewa), together!