Around the world, rabies kills. We can stop it.

Rabies Day

Rabies is one of the deadliest diseases on earth; nearly 100% of people who contract the disease die from it. At home in Massachusetts, most of my friends, family, and neighbours don't think too much about rabies. Their pets are vaccinated in the unlikely case that they come into contact with a rabid raccoon, but it simply doesn’t concern most people.

But in so many places where IFAW works rabies is a real danger for both animals and people. An estimated 59,000 people are killed each year by the disease – almost all from dog bites – even though the disease is entirely preventable.

READ: IFAW’s Practical Guide to Understanding the Risks and Prevention of Rabies in People and Dogs

On this World Rabies Day, I wanted to share a story that comes to us from our partner organization the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA).

Bali is currently going through a massive rabies outbreak, and we have been working with BAWA to save the island’s dogs from a horrific death – and prevent the disease from spreading to people. To accomplish this goal, the Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) team has been working since 2012 to increase awareness about rabies among members of 20 communities around the island.

We do this work in the face of calls for the culling of dogs, which does nothing to prevent rabies, and in fact decreases a community’s protection by killing animals that are already vaccinated. Often, when a rabies case is confirmed in a village, the Balinese government will murder all the dogs in that village – unless the villagers work to stop the cull.

Recently there was a positive rabies case in Negari, which is Made Suwana’s home village. You may have seen Made in a photo or video of our work in Bali – he is the leader of the PLA team, and a tireless advocate for animals.

A puppy had been found making strange noises, and had already bitten two people.

They were fortunate enough to receive vaccines in time to save their lives. The BAWA ambulance arrived and secured the dog, and arranged for those bitten to receive the course of vaccinations to prevent the onset of rabies.

The problem is that many people in Bali think that the proper response to this kind of incident is to cull the dogs on the street. But killing dogs doesn’t help prevent rabies. It can actually make people and dogs more vulnerable to the disease.

That’s because we need around 70% of the dog population to be vaccinated in order to stop transmission of rabies between dogs – but when you start killing dogs, you’re also likely to kill dogs who are already vaccinated, leaving fewer dogs immune to the disease, and decreasing the protection they provide to the human population.

Luckily for the dogs in Made’s village, he has a great relationship with the local leadership. Made and the PLA team ensured that there was no cull in his village, and the Balinese government has been called to re-vaccinate all of the dogs (in Bali, only the provincial government has the authority to vaccinate for rabies).

It’s stories like this that really drive home the importance of working at the community level. Without the relationships that the PLA team had in place, we might have seen hundreds of street dogs killed for no good reason. Thankfully, the over 400 dogs in Made’s village are safe and sound – and about to be revaccinated, helping to protect the human population from one of the deadliest diseases on earth.

--KA

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Experts

Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Shannon Walajtys
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