As a result of this epic initiative, there have been no recorded canine-mediated rabies deaths in humans for the past 18 months in Kabul. And to date, there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in dogs in the city since April 2021, a landmark achievement being celebrated on World Rabies Day 2022 on 28 September.
Prior to 2017, on average there were 38 recorded human deaths each year from canine-mediated rabies in the city. Mayhew Afghanistan’s mass rabies vaccination programme was then launched in August 2017, with support from Dogs Trust Worldwide, and in subsequent years, the Edgard Cooper Foundation as well. The vaccination programme has run over a course of four cycles. Since the programme commenced almost 95,000 dogs have been vaccinated in sixteen of the city’s districts.
Plans are currently underway for the programme to be rolled out to six remaining outlying districts of Kabul, which were previously inaccessible. Again, a huge achievement for the initiative.
The vaccination team, comprising Mayhew Afghanistan vets and a team of Kabul Municipality dog-catchers, who are trained in humane catching methods by Mayhew, work systematically across the sixteen districts of Kabul catching the dogs, vaccinating them and marking them with a dash of non-toxic paint before releasing them.
In order to break the chain of the rabies virus transmission, the benchmark is that a minimum of 70% of the dog population in any one area is vaccinated before moving on to the next area. Post-vaccination surveys are carried out to count the dogs marked with the paint and cross-checked against the dog population survey carried out earlier to meet this threshold.
In addition, the Mayhew Community Engagement team in Afghanistan, are raising awareness to address the human aspect of rabies, in order to reduce the number of cases through a holistic approach. The team talk to locals of all ages, explaining their work, discussing rabies dog-bite prevention and how to behave around the roaming dogs in their city. Since May 2021, the team have reached 1,440 adults and 3,120 children through this work.
As Caroline Yates, Head of International Projects and Relations at Mayhew, explains, “Since it first began five years ago, our rabies vaccination programme in Kabul, the first of its kind for Afghanistan and devised by Mayhew Afghanistan’s Country Director, Dr Abdul-Jalil Mohammadzai DVM, has raised the profile of the country’s struggle with rabies, this neglected yet endemic disease, with leading organisations involved in the fight against rabies. ‘Dr Mo’, as he is affectionately known, convinced the Kabul authorities to stop the culling of dogs and has helped initiate this life-saving programme for dogs and people. As a result, Mayhew is proud to be part of WHO/WOAH’s overall strategy to eliminate canine-mediated rabies by 2030, “Zero by 2030.”
Caroline continues, “It is vital that people understand the importance of rabies control for the health and safety of humans and animals. This is a disease which is 100% preventable, and mass vaccination of dogs is a proven method of reaching that goal, as well as being the most cost-effective. As in many of the world’s poorer countries, where rabies in endemic, Kabul’s residents are frequently unable to access rabies vaccinations or post-prophylaxis treatment if bitten by a dog, either because the vaccines are unavailable, or in most cases, unaffordable. Fear of this fatal disease leads governments to introduce culling of dogs which is ineffective and does nothing to prevent the transmission of the disease or control the population.”
She adds, “The large number of vaccinated dogs and the fact there have been no canine-mediated rabies deaths in humans for 18 months, proves the campaign is working. As we approach World Rabies Day on 28 September, with this year’s theme of ‘One health, zero deaths’ in mind, Mayhew’s team in Afghanistan should feel very proud of their achievements.”
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