I am travelling out to India on Friday to work in a slum on the western fringes of New Delhi, looking at what can be done to help with the rabies problem.
Rabies is a global problem that causes the deaths of thousands of people and dogs. In India alone, every two seconds someone is bitten by a dog, around 24 people a day suffer an excruciating death from rabies: over half of them are children.
The most shocking aspect of rabies is that it is completely preventable. Vaccination of dogs in bulk programmes is inexpensive and highly effective: it can cost as little as 50c per dog. In comparison,the cost of a human being treated for rabies after a dog bite is around €40, which is over a month’s salary in the regions where rabies is common.
The World Health Organisation believes that mass canine vaccination programmes are the most effective measure for controlling rabies, and that vaccinating 70% of the dogs in an area where rabies is prevalent is necessary to control the disease in both humans and dogs. Ambitious targets are in place to have rabies eliminated from the planet by 2030.
India is the country with the biggest rabies problem, with 20000 people dying every year. So-called “street dogs” are part of the urban culture. They play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to deal with garbage: in areas where dogs have been forcibly removed, the urban rat population has become a major problem. But street dogs also carry rabies.
The answer to India’s rabies crisis is well-known but difficult to implement: sterilisation and vaccination of street dogs. This has happened successfully in some areas, but the sheer size and scale of India is daunting: it’s the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.2 billion people (nearly 300 times the population of Ireland), living in an area that’s 40 times as big as Ireland. It’s easy to be intimidated by these numbers, but the answer is still simple: vaccination of most street dogs against rabies, combined where possible, with sterilisation of dogs to prevent breeding.
Many organisations are working to achieve this goal, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals ) and Mission Rabies which is aiming to vaccinate over two million dogs in India against rabies in the next three years.
I will be visiting the Mayapuri slum in Delhi. My aim is to carry out a dog census and rabies review of the area, using observation and a questionnaire.
I hope that my efforts may be the first step to dogs in the Mayapuri slum eventually being vaccinated, and in due course, when a boy or girl is bitten by a dog, they will not be infected with rabies. That one child may seem insignificant in the statistics, but to them, the difference will be massive. And if other people take action to help to work towards the eradication of rabies in India, tens of thousands of other children will also be protected against this terrible disease.
If you wish to donate to Pete’s work in Delhi, please follow this link.