Taking a bite out of Haiti’s rabies problem

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Officials vaccinate a dog against rabies in Haiti.
Photo: Dr. Michel Chancy, State Secretary for Animal Production in Haiti



Rabies is a serious public health problem in Haiti. Although human rabies in the Americas has declined by more than 95% since 1980, Bolivia, Guatemala, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Haiti continue to experience cases. The problem is most acute in Haiti, which accounts for 70% of all deaths caused by rabies in the region.
 
This is the main reason behind the Haitian Government's campaign to vaccinate over 500,000 dogs and reduce the incidence of rabies on the island. Dr. Michel Chancy, State Secretary for Animal Production in Haiti, has repeatedly said that dogs are responsible for more than 99% of all cases of human rabies on the island. Not to mention the fact that human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies are known to be underreported, and estimated to be up to 200 per year. 

Many social, cultural and economic factors have contributed to the spread of rabies in Haiti, ncluding the strain on financial resources due to post-earthquake reconstruction and the subsequent cholera epidemic. Yet improving animal health remains a priority, for its impact on both public health (through the control of zoonotic diseases such as rabies) and animal productions.
 
It is a well-established fact that one of the most cost-effective ways to protect humans from contracting the disease is by vaccinating dogs. The goal of the Haitian Government to vaccinate at least 70% of the dog population on the island is indeed a laudable effort worth investing in because it will reduce transmission of the disease to humans, especially young children, and ultimately save lives.

In Latin America and the Caribbean region, rabies is often associated with poverty and is considered a neglected disease. The current vaccination campaign is part of a comprehensive five-year project financed by the World Bank through the International Development Association or IDA, which aims to build capacity in agriculture public services.

 
The campaign is also in line with the investment strategies advocated by leading organizations in the field of rabies, which include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Organization for Animal health (OIE), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC), which just released a joint report entitled Rabies - Rationale for Investing in the Global Elimination of Dog-Mediated Human Rabies.
 
Investing in animal health has both economic and public health implications. Rabies is, after all, one of those diseases that can easily be prevented if the proper mechanisms are in place and if there is coordination among the different line ministries and engagement of communities and political leaders. Controlling rabies at the animal source is far more cost-effective than providing post-exposure treatments and is the only tool we have to ultimately eradicate the disease.
 
The World Bank is committed to strengthening the overall animal health system. This entails establishing better conditions for veterinary services to carry out essential functions of epidemiological surveillance, prevention and control of priority diseases that impact animal production, productivity and public health.
 
Diseases that affect animals, some of which can also be transmitted to humans, can also impact trade with obvious consequences for food security, food safety, economic development and public health.
 
Because animal health drives agricultural productivity and is closely linked to public health, and because many households in Haiti depend on their animals for daily survival, these types of vaccination campaigns are a necessary step in creating a healthy environment where both animals and humans can coexist and thrive. 
 

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