The most recent statistics available indicate that approximately 65 000 individuals are bitten by dogs in KwaZulu-Natal every year. In the process, 200 000 post-exposure vaccines are used to prevent those who have been bitten from contracting rabies – a 100% fatal disease.
The cost of this to the South African government is in the region of R60 million per annum, while the overall cost of controlling veterinary and human rabies amounts to approximately R180 million.
Indications are that the war against rabies is being won with human rabies cases in the region steadily decreasing from six in 2007 to zero in 2014. “This decrease is even more remarkable in terms of dog rabies cases, with figures showing a year-on-year decrease from 472 in 2007 to 37 in 2014,” says Daniel Stewart, Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) and World Health Organization (WHO) representative.
According to Stewart, important work is being done in combatting the deadly rabies virus in the province, with between 400 000 and 500 000 dogs being vaccinated by the Government and a further 200 000 by private veterinarians every year.
“However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels; on the contrary, it remains very important to educate and inform the public about the dangers of rabies and how best to prevent the spread of this disease at a community level.”
Given the fact that the average age of people bitten by dogs is between 11 and 15 years, it stands to reason that educating children on how to avoid being bitten is a vital step in preventing the spread of the rabies virus. To this end, GARC and the programme managers of Netcare’s trauma injury prevention (TIP) programme have teamed up and developed an informative booklet, which is supported by WHO.
“The booklet, which will be an important tool in the fight against rabies, was specifically developed to teach children how to interact with dogs and how to read their body language in order to avoid being bitten,” notes Netcare Milpark Hospital trauma programme manager, Rene Grobler.
Yesterday, staff members of GARC and the Netcare group spent the morning at Redfern Primary School in Phoenix, Durban, where they held an interactive and informative presentation on rabies and dog bites for a group of grade six and seven students. Each of the students was given their own copy of the booklet, which was formally launched during an event at Netcare Umhlanga Hospital last night.
“Children are typically the ones most impacted by rabies, as their actions around dogs can often lead to dog bites,” adds Amanda Klette, trauma programme manager at Netcare Union Hospital. “This is why the booklet was designed to be interactive, with educational games and pictures to facilitate easy learning. We believe the graphics will also help illiterate individuals to understand the core concepts contained in the booklet.”
The WHO is supporting the booklet, which is being distributed to disadvantaged communities countrywide, and, together with the Glen Shopping Centre in Alberton, has provided support for the printing of booklets for the launch campaign in KZN and Gauteng.
An electronic version of the booklet is freely available from www.rabiesalliance.org and www.theglenshopping.co.za. Additionally, a digital copy can be requested by emailing Netcare’s TIP programme on [email protected] or GARC at [email protected].
This partnership between WHO, GARC and Netcare for the development of the educational booklet epitomises a ‘One Health’ approach towards rabies control and elimination. GARC provided the expertise with regards to rabies and dog bite prevention, while Netcare – with their experience in the successful development of several other trauma booklets – has the means to target the correct audiences most effectively.
“The booklet reinforces the importance of seeking appropriate medical attention as soon as possible after an animal bite in order to receive wound treatment and rabies post-exposure prophylaxis when required,” adds Grobler.
According to the WHO, tens of thousands of people die as a result of rabies infections each year, mostly in the rural communities of Africa and Asia.
Domestic dogs are the main transmitters of rabies to humans, but, through effective rabies vaccination of dogs, the majority of human rabies cases could easily be prevented. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals, either when they bite, or when their saliva comes into contact with an open wound or the eyes, nose or mouth of an individual.
“Despite rabies being a 100% fatal disease once symptoms occur, it is easily preventable through the vaccination of your pets, as well as timely medical attention in the case of possible exposure. Through education, we aim to limit unnecessary dog bite incidents – especially those involving children, the most affected group – and therefore eliminate rabies in humans through prevention,” concludes Klette.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare and GARC
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson or Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]