Rabies is a disease of poverty, disproportionately impacting the world’s most disadvantaged areas - with Sub-Saharan Africa having the most deaths per capita. In Tanzania, a country in which we have worked since 2016, it is estimated that 1,500 people die every year from rabies. However, the disease is still greatly underreported. Research suggests the number of deaths is perhaps up to 100 times higher than official figures.
We partnered with animal welfare charity Mbwa Wa Africa to tackle rabies in Tanzania’s Meru District. It all started with a two-week pilot campaign in 2016 to demonstrate the effectiveness of our vaccination and education programmes then together, we hit the ground running.
Every year since, we’ve returned to Tanzania to work with Mbwa Wa Africa and ensure the communities’ continued protection against rabies as well as expanding our efforts – from covering 2 of the 17 wards in the Meru District in 2016, to 12 in 2021. It is estimated that over 222,000 people reside within these areas, our work has continued to ensure this population remain protected from the deadly threat of rabies. This has only been made possible by the support of our partners and supporters, and the hard work of our teams and volunteers.
So how do we do it? We use a three-pronged approach to eliminate rabies.
- We conduct mass canine vaccination campaigns, targeting at least 70% of the dog population to create herd immunity.
- We run education programmes to teach those at risk, particularly children under the age of 15, how to avoid getting bitten by dogs and what to do to if they do.
- We manage canine rabies surveillance in at-risk communities, responding to reports of suspected rabies cases to collect and quarantine the animals and help people exposed to seek treatment.
On top of this three-pronged approach, we champion and deliver humane animal population control. In rabies-endemic countries, rates of births and deaths within the local animal populations may be high. Neutering and spaying dogs and cats reduces overpopulation and helps alleviate the suffering that comes with it – everything from the transmission of disease to the shortage of food and shelter. With less dynamic populations, we can better manage the health and welfare of these animals and also reduce the risk of rabies to both animals and people.
Alongside the mass vaccination and education campaign in 2021, we ran a spay-neuter campaign with the help of Mbwa Wa Africa Animal Rescue and our sister charity Worldwide Veterinary Service. Whilst we were vaccinating pets, we asked owners if they’d like their dog or cat to be sterilised by our teams. After explaining the health benefits to both the animal and the community, many owners took up our offer. Throughout the 10-day campaign, the expert volunteers sterilised a total of 248 dogs and 6 cats.
As well as sterilising animals, the veterinary team provided treatment to any sick and injured dogs reported by the vaccination teams. It was a real team effort. Using our App, locations of dogs in need of immediate care were recorded, allowing them to be collected promptly by the veterinary response team and the vaccination team to continue their work.
In 2021, despite the challenges presented to us by the ongoing pandemic, we held another successful campaign in Tanzania. Over a short two-week period in January, we managed to vaccinate 7,703 dogs against rabies and deliver our life-saving prevention lessons to 27,132 children across 65 schools – that’s 316 more dogs and 8 more schools than we reached in 2020.
It’s only with the support of others that we’re able to continue this life-saving work. Thank you to Mbwa Wa Africa Animal Rescue for your partnership and dedication towards eliminating rabies in Tanzania. Thank you to our sponsors Marchig Animal Welfare Trust and Dogs Trust Worldwide for your continued support of our programmes, and to MSD Animal Health for generously donating the canine vaccines. Huge thanks are also extended to our local stakeholders within Meru District, for their much-valued support of our campaign. A special thank you to the local and international volunteers who lent a hand in the field, the donors who gifted what they could from far and wide, and the community members who got involved in the campaign – choosing to get their pets vaccinated and sterilised, and encouraging others to do the same. Together, we can make Tanzania’s Meru District rabies-free.