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WHO says rabies 100% preventable but fatal

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By Abraham Adekunle

It calls on FG to intensify public awareness and education on rabies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to intensify its public awareness and Education on rabies. The organization says that rabies is 99.9 percent fatal but 100 percent preventable. The country’s representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, made the announcement at the launch of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies in Abuja on September 26, 2022. Mulombo, who was represented by Dr Alex Chimbaru, said that Nigeria also needs to have joint surveillance and information sharing, capacity building of health workers, improved resources for diagnosis and risk communication.

Chimbaru noted that the WHO would like to reiterate its commitment to supporting the implementation of this National Strategic Plan (NSP), which addressed the gaps and issues highlighted. He also said the collaborative spirit would continue throughout the implementation of the strategic plan and beyond, as the country worked towards achieving the goal of eliminating rabies by 2030. Rabies is a highly infectious disease, remains as one of the most important zoonotic and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) in Nigeria.

WAHIS ranks rabies number one zoonotic infection in Nigeria.

In 2018, the World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) had ranked rabies as the number one zoonotic infection in Nigeria. And in 2022, during the just concluded One Health Zoonotic disease re-prioritization in Nigeria – which was supported by WHO – rabies was listed among the top 10 prioritized zoonotic diseases. He said the fight against rabies in the country had been a long and tedious one since it was first reported in 1912. “The disease has been reported in a variety of animals including dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, and wildlife. However, unvaccinated dogs remain the main source of infection affecting several suspected and confirmed human cases, especially in school children and women,” he said.

He acknowledged that most of these cases have resulted in death. Currently, experts report that rabies is on the increase and there is a need for urgent health action to curb its spread and eliminate the disease. Dr. Chimbaru said that the WHO Country Office had continued to play an important role in supporting government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to work towards the eradication of the disease. He added that rabies in the country represented the larger issue of the continued prevalence of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that had caused high mortalities, with even more morbidities and poor livelihoods. In other words, rabies has caused more deaths and more infected cases while impacting the lives of the population negatively.

Poor health systems limited efforts to fight the disease.

Mulombo said the main causes of NTD prevalence are particularly poor health systems and inadequate policy frameworks. He said that these have limited the efforts to fight these NTD’s effectively in the country. Because of this, Nigeria needs to position and align itself with global guidelines such as the newly established 2021-2030 roadmap for all Neglected Tropical Diseases (which includes rabies). The roadmap sets global targets and milestones to prevent, control, eliminate or eradicate 20 NTD’s by 2030.

Increased calls for joints advocacy efforts and investments from the government and Private Sector to address these NTD’s are being addressed. He said in the spirit of One Health, WHO Nigeria is also committed to working with other UN Agencies such as FAO, OIE, UNICEF etc. to implement the One Health approach to address these, including rabies. He said he also expected tripartite MDAs and partners to leverage on each other’s strengths, expertise, and resources to collaborate effectively and do the same.

FMH says Nigeria still challenged by 15 out of the 20 NTDs.

The National Coordinator of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Nse Akpan, has maintained that the country was still confronted by the challenges posed by 15 out of the 20 NTDs listed by the WHO. Akpan said rabies infection, caused by a Rhabdovirus, was often transmitted to humans through the bites of infected animals (especially dogs). He said that without timely and effective post-exposure prophylaxis, the disease can kill 100 percent of its infected victims. This means that as soon as a victim is bitten by a suspectedly infected dog, without adequate vaccine, they may die. According to him, this is the highest case-fatality rate of all infectious diseases in humans. In other words, this is a disease that kills the majority of its infected carriers to the tune of 99.9 percent.


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