Eliminating rabies is far more complicated than a one size fits all approach or a one-phase mission. We use a range of vaccination approaches to get as high a vaccination coverage in the dog population as possible, from going door-to-door to vaccinate owned dogs to using nets to catch stray dogs that otherwise cannot be handled. Through surveying the local dog population, we determine the best method, or combination of methods, to use to maximise the number of dogs we can vaccinate in a single location.
Approach 1: Catch-Vaccinate-Release
This is carried out by our highly trained dog catchers who use nets to catch free-roaming dogs safely before vaccinating and releasing them.
Approach 2: Door to Door Delivery
This is when our team goes door to door, asking households if they have pets and offering them a free rabies vaccination.
Approach 3: Static Point Project
This is where central locations are chosen, and temporary vaccination clinics are set up, allowing pet owners to bring their animals to be vaccinated.
As we reach new phases of our projects, our methods must change.
In the Indian state of Goa, where we've worked for the last eight years, our programme has grown from strength to strength. Every year, in partnership with the Government of Goa, we vaccinate over 95,000 dogs across the state, and we educate more than 120,000 children on how to be safe around dogs. This effective state-wide public health initiative has successfully eliminated the virus from most parts of the state. Now we are faced with the challenge of how to prevent its reintroduction, through ongoing surveillance, maintaining herd immunity within the local animal population, and tightening border controls to prevent unvaccinated animals from entering the state.
As we begin this new phase of our work in India and push towards the goal of Goa becoming the nation's first rabies-free state, we must evolve our approach to ensure sustained vaccination opportunities for dog owners and maintain high levels of rabies awareness in the absence of rabid dogs appearing in the streets as they did before this project.
Until now, we have used door-to-door and capture-vaccinate-release methods to vaccinate dogs in every corner of the state, from the urban alley ways of cities to the scenic mountainous forests of the interior. This approach was critical to eliminating the virus, ensuring that pockets of unvaccinated dogs did not remain where the virus could circulate and re-emerge from. However, after eight years of working with the communities for rabies elimination and now with many areas within the state free from rabies, it is time to introduce new vaccination approaches for the long-term, whilst remaining vigilant to rapidly respond to the first signs of rabies.
A First for Mission Rabies in India
In October, we ran our first-ever state-wide static point vaccination campaign in Goa. Instead of delivering free vaccinations to the doorsteps of pet owners, we encouraged them to come to us. By setting up dog vaccination camps through government veterinary clinics across the state, dog owners are encouraged to bring their dogs for routine free rabies vaccination each year.
Encouraging Change in Communities
After years of delivering vaccinations to pet owners' doorsteps, the first challenge was encouraging them to attend. The team got to work immediately, printing and displaying posters and banners in main thoroughfares, detailing when and where pet owners could go to request a free rabies vaccination. While other members of the team spoke with media outlets, government officials, and the public - everyone from shop assistants to tuk-tuk drivers - explaining what we were doing and how they could get involved.
The static point campaign ran just over three weeks and as expected, the initial response was slow. With many pet owners being so used to vaccinations teams visiting them at home, it took some encouragement for them to participate. However, slowly by surely, the word got around about our new way of doing things, and eventually more and more pet owners arrived at our static points.
Pet owners of all ages took part, arriving with anywhere between 1 and 14 animals. Thanks to their attendance across government veterinary hospitals, dispensaries, animal welfare organisations, and other central locations - where we set up vaccination points - we were able to vaccinate a total of 1,743 dogs and 145 cats.
Trail to Success
All in all, our first-ever state-wide static point campaign in Goa was a success. We trialled a new method of mass vaccinating dogs against rabies whilst overcoming several challenges and encouraging responsible pet ownership across the state. With this new protocol and methodology, we will start to phase out door-to-door vaccinations in these communities, and refocus our efforts into static point projects, catalysing a shift in dog ownership culture in which people expect to bring their dogs for vaccination each year.
More Than Vaccinations
This campaign wasn't the only thing keeping our teams in India busy throughout October. Alongside the static vaccination campaign, our trained dog catchers carried out more vaccination work, using hand nets to safely catch and vaccinate over 2,700 free-roaming dogs. Whilst our surveillance team remained poised to respond to any suspected rabies cases or animal emergencies. They collected and performed necropsies on two suspected rabid dogs - both tested negative - and came to the rescue of 38 animals in need, the majority of which were suffering from open and infected wounds or had been involved in road traffic accidents.
How You Can Help
With your support, we can continue this life-saving work and protect whole communities against rabies, a deadly but 100% preventable disease. Make a donation, apply to volunteer, sign our pledge, or create a fundraiser today, and help eliminate rabies for good.