By Confidente Reporter
THE Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), Germany’s national institute for animal health, and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), is supporting the implementation of a rabies control project in Namibia, which is showing early signs of success in the Oshana region.
Rabies represents an enormous public health and economic problem in Namibia. Livestock farming is one of the most important sources of income and is highly regarded in Namibian society.
In addition to cattle and sheep farming, farming of kudu, an African antelope species, is an important economic branch.
Since the 1970s, rabies in the kudu population is a massive problem for agriculture in Namibia.
On the one hand, vaccination is difficult to carryout, while on the other hand the ecological background of kudu rabies is largely unknown.
By far a bigger problem, however, is dog rabies, particularly in the northern parts of the country, where it is the main cause of human-rabies infections. Namibia strives to control dog rabies. However, the number of dogs to be immunised is very high, as is the expenditure for personnel carrying out the vaccinations and the costs for establishing the required infrastructure.
The dog rabies control project, directed by the OIE, is carried out in cooperation with Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and receives €300 000 in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).
“Rabies control is feasible, provided key elements in organising a mass dog vaccination campaign are well considered and executed in advance. These elements are a legal framework, leadership, training, public and stakeholder commitment, logistics and planning,” said Dr Rauna Athingo, the leader of the dog rabies elimination program in Namibia.
Therefore, this is a sensible support measure, as vaccination campaigns have helped reduce the number of dog rabies cases in the Oshana region significantly, for the first time.
“The fight has been intensified… We vaccinated a lot of dogs. More than two times the number we have been vaccinating every year before. People now have an increased awareness and are reporting many more cases of dog rabies. That is a success of the campaign,” said Dr Emmanuel Hikufe, who is the head of the epidemiology subdivision of the Directorate of Veterinary Services
Dr Athingo added that what has been learned is that timing the vaccination campaigns is very crucial. “Conducting campaigns during school holidays has helped to vaccinate more dogs, since school children play a very crucial role, by bringing their dogs to the vaccination point.” The FLI does not only help by providing expertise, but also by assisting in analysing the rabies situation in the entire country.It also assists in rabies diagnostics and in understanding the ecological background of the spread of the disease in the region. Dr Thomas Müller, who is the head of the German National Reference Laboratory and the international OIE Reference Laboratory for Rabies, said that the major aim is to help Namibians to solve the problem themselves.
“We provide the knowhow and the technical support,” he said. The FLI also houses a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Rabies Surveillance and Research. “The collaboration of the FLI with other countries, in the monitoring and control of rabies, is exemplary,” Hikufe said. A decisive next step will be to extend the dog vaccination campaign to neighbouring regions and to monitor the progress of disease control.
Furthermore, joint efforts will be made to explore the possibility for oral vaccination of stray dogs, with the aim to increase vaccination coverage in the dog population.
To achieve long-term success, the inclusion of the neighbouring countries Angola, Zambia and Botswana, and a lasting international partnership, are essential.
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