Kenya: Saving Lives in Nairobi By Vaccinating Dogs Against Rabies

Veterinarians in Kenya are promoting rabies vaccinations for dogs in an effort to eradicate the disease in Nairobi, the capital, and to stave off the threat of the virus spreading in urban areas.

Nairobi has seen a resurgence in rabies, a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected animal, usually a dog.

Once an animal or human is infected, there is no cure. Rabies usually leads to death.

The most effective and affordable way to stop the disease is through vaccination.

According to Daniel Karugu, Director of Veterinary Services in Nairobi, treating rabies in humans can cost 10,000 Kenyan shillings (80 euros), while vaccinating a dog costs 100 times less.

“So we use 100 to save 10,000 and also to save lives,” he said.

Due to the high cost of treatment and care for dogs, most middle class Nairobi residents rely on free campaigns to vaccinate their pets.

Rabies response

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 called rabies one of the most neglected tropical diseases, and set the goal of zero human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies transmitted by 2030.

Karugu says vaccination campaigns have been targeted at certain Nairobi neighbourhoods.

“We chose Kasarani, and especially Ruai, because that area has had a bad history for the last two years for having rabies. We have had rabies in donkeys twice and rabies in dogs twice,” he said, adding that a goat was also infected.

“It’s an area that’s exposed, so there must be a wildlife vector. Mongoose and jackals harbour this virus, which they transmit to dogs, and then the dogs transmit to people.”

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In low-income areas of Kayole and Kibera, dogs roam freely looking for food. Some were born strays, others were abandoned by owners who were not able to care for them.

Gabriel Ouma, a veterinary surgeon who operates a private clinic in Nairobi, insists that having a dog is a priviledge, not a right.

“If you cannot take care of an animal, please do not keep one. Keep an animal if you can vaccinate it, if you can treat it, if you can give it enough space and of course if it can get the care it deserves,” he said.

Rabies-free future

Eradicating rabies in Kenya would involve more long-term investment and would include cooperation from local governments and affected communities, says Karugu.

“Our dream and our own vision is to have patrols in the community, where we routinely allocate our ten officers per region,” he says, describing a future with dog-catching patrols and preventative action.

Today the state veterinary services can only respond to complaints.

“Our wish is to be proactive,” said Karugu. Special vehicles are expected to be delivered some time this year, at which time “you will see us more in the community”.

This story originally featured on RFI’s Africa Calling podcast.

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