WINDHOEK, 11 APR – Rabies has caused the deaths of between six and 26 people and over 300 animals annually in Namibia over the last decade, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Alpheus !Naruseb said on Wednesday.
The minister made these remarks at the official opening of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) sub-regional seminar on rabies for countries of the Southern African Development Community in Windhoek.
The three-day seminar started Tuesday.
Globally, rabies is responsible for over 60 000 deaths annually, the majority of which is from Asia and Africa.
“It is imperative to put more effort into preventative measures in the fight against this deadly disease,” !Naruseb said.
The minister further said it is widely known that the most important source of rabies in humans are from rabid dogs.
“It is therefore prudent to ensure that rabies control in the dog population is intensified. The public needs to understand that it is very cheap to have a dog vaccinated and that there is no benefit in keeping an unvaccinated dog,” he said.
!Naruseb further stated that with the assistance of OIE and the German government, Namibia started the ‘elimination of dog-mediated human rabies’ project in March 2016 which focuses on the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs).
It focuses on mass vaccination of pets; intensified rabies education in communities and schools; stakeholder engagement; and intensified rabies surveillance.
“The project has seen a major improvement in vaccination coverage of pets, while rabies cases have also significantly declined,” the minister said.
A total of 110 352 dogs and cats were vaccinated during the first 12 months of the campaign, representing a 45 per cent increase from the baseline vaccination figures of 60 255 dogs and cats, of which cats make up only 9 per cent.
“This achievement contributed to the reduction of rabies among animals in the NCAs from 176, of which 96 were dogs, in 2016 to 129, of which 56 were dogs, in 2017,” he said.
Cases of rabies amongst humans also decreased from 14 in 2016 to eight in 2017.
!Naruseb said some of the lessons learned from the rabies elimination effort in Namibia are that to vaccinate dogs, the owners first have to be educated; that everyone, including national and regional political leaders, must be involved in eliminating the diseases; and that donor funding is needed but as it is a national problem, nations need to dig deep into their pockets to make rabies campaigns a success.