News / Health

Vaccinating Dogs Against Rabies in East Africa

Tanzanians and their dogs wait in line for free rabies vaccinations.
Tanzanians and their dogs wait in line for free rabies vaccinations.


By Abigail Martin

Rabies is a global health issue, claiming fifty to sixty thousand lives every year. Most of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The rabies virus is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected dog. Because children are the most susceptible to attacks by rabid dogs, they account for the vast majority of deaths.

Veterinarian Guy Palmer is conducting research in Tanzania on a sustainable rabies vaccination program.
Palmer explained, “If we can get around 60% we can actually control a disease outbreak. We don’t need to vaccinate every dog. We need to vaccinate somewhere around 60%. So, the question becomes, can you actually achieve that level of vaccination in a low resource setting?”

Dogs in a bicycle basket await their rabies vaccinations in Tanzania.Dogs in a bicycle basket await their rabies vaccinations in Tanzania.
Dogs in a bicycle basket await their rabies vaccinations in Tanzania.
Dogs in a bicycle basket await their rabies vaccinations in Tanzania.
Palmer has a PhD in infectious diseases and is an adviser to the Global Development Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He and his colleagues work with community leaders to arrange dog vaccination clinics. Word spreads quickly and people gather with their animals. But Dr. Palmer was surprised when he saw the dog owners.
“Children own these dogs,” he said. “They bring with them their vaccination cards and it’s amazing the percentage that we have that have the vaccination card from a previous trip.  We come every year to each village. In general, these families don’t have a lot of papers and certificates. They tend to put a value on those they have.”

Children in Tanzania register their dogs to receive rabies vaccinations.Children in Tanzania register their dogs to receive rabies vaccinations.
Children in Tanzania register their dogs to receive rabies vaccinations.
Children in Tanzania register their dogs to receive rabies vaccinations.
While the vaccination effort has been successful, Palmer says there’s more to do to make it sustainable over the long-term.
“We now have about 15 years of experience with this. And if you continue these vaccination campaigns, you completely suppress rabies. The challenge is how do you get away from this model we have now, which is donor driven. It costs us about three dollars to vaccinate a dog in those regions and that’s not something that’s, at the moment, sustainable by either the individuals nor by the government. Using country-wide approaches, it’s possible to actually move rabies out of a region and then vaccinate only around the periphery to control the disease.  To do that what we’ve really got to do is reduce costs,” he said.
About one dollar of the vaccine cost is keeping it cold. Fortunately, silk polymers have the potential to revolutionize the storage of vaccines. Strands of silk proteins are purified from silkworm cocoons and are incorporated into the vaccine serum. The silk polymers don’t affect the vaccine’s effectiveness, but they stabilize the serum so that it doesn’t degrade under high temperatures. These polymers can protect vaccines at up to 45 degrees Celsius for more than six months. The vaccines remain more than eighty percent potent despite storage at these temperatures.
Dr. Palmer says there’s another way to reduce costs, as well.
“Working with the communities to get them to vaccinate is one of the major goals we have because that will reduce one of our other major costs, which is transport. If we can actually get the vaccines there, then they can maintain them locally and do the local vaccinations,” he said.
Dr. Palmer’s rabies vaccination studies may present other healthcare opportunities. The vaccination clinics could also be used to provide care and treatment for children when they bring their dogs to be vaccinated.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs