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UK charity wins fight against rabies in Goa

A UK charity has helped to eradicate human rabies deaths in a former hotspot in India.

The state of Goa has become the first in India to be declared a rabies controlled area, after there have been zero reported deaths related to the disease in three years. This is largely due to the work of Mission Rabies. The Dorset-based organisation has been partnered with the government in Goa for eight years, carrying out work to eradicate the disease which still kills a child every nine minutes worldwide.

Mission Rabies established its project in Goa in 2013, with an aim to develop new methods of preventing rabies. The charity focused its efforts into mass vaccinating dogs against the disease, as over 99% of rabies infections worldwide are caused by a bite from an infected dog. The campaign began by vaccinating over 61,000 dogs in its first month.

Rabies is so prevalent in many parts of the world that dogs are often mistreated or even culled due to fear of contracting the disease. Due to the mass vaccination programme, the relationship between dogs and people has changed and the locals no longer see the dogs as a threat. Rabies vaccines are now widely available to all pet-owners in the area, and the campaign currently vaccinates approximately 90,000 dogs a year.

Mission Rabies has not only focussed on dog vaccination, but also in educating people on bite prevention.

Dr Luke Gamble, CEO and founder of Mission Rabies commented:

We’ve now delivered 540,593 vaccinations in dogs and educated nearly one million people in dog bite prevention across Goa. [We have] set up 24 hour rabies surveillance, involving an emergency hotline, rapid response team, and a support team for dog bite victims. All of this led to Goa becoming the first state in India to stop all human deaths from rabies in 2018.

The declaration of Goa as a rabies controlled area means that the government in Goa can legally enforce dog vaccination and reporting of suspected cases.

Dr Murugan Appupillai, Director of Education at Mission Rabies said:

Stringent measures, which have never been implemented in India before, will now be put in place to stop rabies re-emerging. Government officials will have the authority to prevent unvaccinated animals entering the state…and even question the status of animals within it.

The charity hopes that other states in India will follow suit in eradicating rabies deaths.