Govt struggles to contain rabies in northern Namibia

Rabies continuous to pose a serious threat with reported cases increasing in both humans and animals in the northern regions of the country, despite extensive intervention by Government throughout the country to contain the disease.
As a result the disease prevalence in the areas remains high, suggesting that interventions executed so far have not been effective enough to reduce cases of rabies or eradicate the rabies virus.
These are the findings of the rabies control private project that was conducted in the northern regions aimed at demonstrating a marked reduction of canine rabies cases in a definable area as a result of mass vaccination, rabies surveillance and response and community education and awareness over a period of 12 months.
 The Oshana region was proposed as a target area for piloting the project being one of the hotspot area in terms of positive rabies cases.
Speaking to the Villager, Rabies Control Pilot Project Coordinator Dr Rauna Athingo, who is also the Chief Veterinarian in the Oshana region, said over the last two years the average of 52% vaccination coverage was recorded in the region based on the estimated dog population of 12 000.
‘’Scientifically, it has been proven that vaccinating 70% of dog population is sufficient enough eliminate rabies,” Athingo said.
There have been 13 confirmed cases of human deaths as a result of rabies from April 2013 to March this year at the Oshakati State Hospital alone with 33 percent of these cases originating from the Oshana region.
There have been 50 confirmed cases of animals have been reported to have died because of rabies from 2014 to February this year.  
“Given the increased number of rabies cases in the past three years, it’s therefore not clear whether the vaccination campaigns conducted once annually results in adequate immunity in the vaccinated dogs. Furthermore, it was not clear if the vaccinated dog population represents the actual population figures in the region,’’ revealed Athingo.
Vaccination was conducted over a period of nine weeks (46 vaccinating days)
A total of 23 807 dogs were vaccinated of which 53.6% were males, while cats comprised about 7.8 % (2 018) of the total vaccinated pets. 831 dogs and 55 cats were vaccinated during follow up round 1 258 pets were vaccinated during annual vaccination campaign.
Dr Moetapele Letshwenyo, who is the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) Sub-regional Representative for Southern Africa, noted that educating the public through awareness creation combined with consistent mass vaccination of dogs and cats with good quality vaccines can lead to the eradication of dog mediated rabies.
More than 95% of human cases of rabies are caused by dog bites, while rabies kills tens of thousands of people in developing countries Letshwenyo has revealed.
‘’The OIE is committed to supporting developing countries in the fight against rabies and to this end has created a canine rabies vaccine bank. This facility guarantees rapid availability of high quality vaccines which meets the OIE international standards on vaccine manufacture,’’ he said.