Working to Eradicate Rabies in Laikipia County, Kenya

Since 2015, the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project, based at Mpala Research Centre, has been leading the annual Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign (LRVC) of dogs and cats in Laikipia County, making an average of 15,000 rabies vaccinations available each year. This initiative has grown over the years leading to various partnerships including with the Laikipia County Government and expansion to other counties like Samburu and Isiolo. The success of the project is attributed to robust collaboration with the county government teams, well coordinated community engagement, funding support from partners and a dedicated LRVC team. 

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease that claims the lives of 59,000 people worldwide, with approximately half being children under the age of 15. This disease primarily affects rural, poor populations so access to treatment can be a challenge.

99% of rabies infections come from infected domestic dogs, so vaccinating dogs can prevent rabies transmission. It is also the most cost-effective strategy for preventing rabies.

A dog receiving the rabies vaccine during the 2023 campaign. Photo credit: Zoe Kaldor, communications fellow.

Spearheading the coordination of this activity is Dr. James Ngatia, a veterinarian with the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project. As a native of Laikipia County, Dr. Ngatia knew this opportunity was a great fit for him. “When I discovered the LRVC project based at Mpala in 2017-2018, I saw it as a perfect avenue to support my own County while also growing my professional journey,” he shared. 

Dr. Ngatia holding a dog during the 2022 LRVC campaign. Photo credit: Celine Wandia, outreach officer for the Samburu-Laikipia Wild Dog Project.

The main LRVC campaign occurs over several weeks and is a multi-day affair. “On Thursdays, teams meet to get to know each other. Vaccinations are carried out on Fridays and Saturdays, with each team having three to four static points (stations where dogs are brought by their owners for vaccination),” Dr. Ngatia described. Each team has on average two veterinarians and two volunteers that help with data collection and marking the dogs and cats to show they were vaccinated.

Dogs in line to get vaccinated. Photo credit: Zoe Kaldor, communications fellow.

While the vaccinations take approximately six weeks to complete, the work to prepare the communities begins much earlier. Dogs and cats have to be vaccinated every year, so informing community members about the campaign is essential. A spokesperson for the campaign will travel to communities to let them know the campaign is beginning soon. When the main mass vaccination campaign ends, the door-to-door scaled-down version of LRVC begins in Laikipia North and Isiolo, and this continues for most of the year amidst other activities of the Samburu Laikipia Wild Dog Project. As the LRVC coordinator, Dr. Ngatia reminds the chiefs and village elders in the days prior to the campaign coming to their communities. 

Campaigns similar to this face their own set of challenges.  LRVC is resource-intensive and requires a lot of support from the campaign implementers and partners. “Other challenges include having to deal with unfavorable weather,” mentioned Dr. Ngatia. “In some areas, we have also had episodes of negative perception and poor reception of our ‘free vaccine.’ This has to be followed up by quite a bit of education and myth-busting to get good vaccination coverage back in traction.”

The LRVC team has clearly been successful in its sensitization efforts. For the 2023 campaign, Dr. Ngatia and the team are on their way to vaccinating the target 25,000 dogs and cats.  They are also looking to train more communities on rabies awareness and prevention. The campaign highlights that domestic dog vaccination is the ‘cheapest’ way to control rabies: approximately $2 to vaccinate a dog in rural Laikipia compared to approximately $80 to treat a person bitten by an unvaccinated dog.

A dog getting vaccinated against rabies. Photo credit: Zoe Kaldor, communications fellow.

“For success, more partners joining in the efforts earlier will help achieve the desired results. Additionally, [vaccination] needs to be done in the surrounding counties, as rabid dogs respect no boundary, and eventually nationally,” shared Dr. Ngatia. Thanks to the Wild Dog Project and the Laikipia County government’s efforts, there has been no significant rabies outbreak in dogs since 2017 in Laikipia and no African Wild Dogs lost to rabies in the same period.

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