Eradicating Rabies

Approximately 2,000 people lose their lives to rabies annually in Kenya, with the majority of these deaths being children residing in rural areas. These children often face challenges in accessing the necessary medical attention and post-exposure vaccinations due to financial constraints or the unavailability of such treatments in their communities. In addition, numerous cases of rabies-related deaths among livestock, pets, and wildlife go unreported. 99% of rabies cases in Kenya are linked to rabid domestic dogs. 

The Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign

Armed with this knowledge, a team of researchers based at Mpala initiated the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign (LRVC) in 2015. The collaborators of LRVC include Mpala, the Samburu Laikipia Wild Dog Project, the Darwin Initiative, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In its early stages, researchers Dedan Ngatia, Dr. Dishon Muloi, and Dr. Adam Fergusson spearheaded a limited vaccination effort in five communities, immunizing around 1,000 dogs and cats in the first year. As the project expanded and garnered more local and international partners, notably the County Government of Laikipia, this endeavor experienced significant growth. Consequently, the campaign’s reach now covers over 85% of Laikipia County.

Currently, the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project is the primary sponsor of the campaign, making an average of 15,000 rabies vaccinations available each year. This effort has collectively vaccinated nearly 90,000 dogs within Laikipia County and has expanded its reach to include Isiolo County. Through valuable insights gained from their experiences, the implementation team has successfully reduced the cost of vaccinating a dog against rabies from USD $6.8 to approximately $1.87. The team has also included rabies awareness, dog bite management, dog and cat welfare and domestic dog health training in the communities to increase the knowledge base and further contribute to rabies control. When dogs are vaccinated, the protection extends far beyond just the individual pet or herding dog. The owners and other humans that interact with that dog are protected as are the livestock in that locality; more so, the wild carnivores and in particular the endangered African Wild dog, which can contract rabies from domestic dogs, are also protected.

Since 2017, there have been no significant outbreaks of rabies in the project area, and there have been no rabies related deaths among Wild Dogs during this period. Occasional cases of rabies come mostly from dogs coming in from outside the vaccination area. This is a major highlight for Laikipia, and we are positive that these trends can be maintained and increased when more partners join and rally toward the goal of rabies elimination. LRVC is a volunteer driven initiative and is currently carried out by an implementation committee consisting of Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project Researchers at Mpala and Veterinarians from the County government of Laikipia and other conservancy partners in Laikipia such as One Health Kenya, Worldwide Veterinary Service and many others. For the 2023 campaign, the goal is to vaccinate 25,000 dogs and cats and train more communities on rabies awareness and prevention. The Project emphasizes that domestic dog vaccination is the ‘cheapest’ way to control rabies (it costs about $2 to vaccinate a dog in rural Laikipia, and about $80 to fully treat a person bitten by an unvaccinated dog). Therefore, there is a need for one health advisors and public health departments to also join in and support efforts such as mass vaccination of domestic dogs. 

The Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project wants to vaccinate dogs against canine distemper during this campaign as well expand to more areas of Isiolo and Samburu counties. You can view the appeal letter here to support the inclusion of these activities.
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