Reducing the threat of rabies in Africa

Experts seek ways to confer protection in nations with scant medical resources

Canine rabies has been eliminated in developed countries but remains a threat to half the world, including the African nation of Tanzania. The bite from a rabid dog is often deadly to humans living in Africa and Asia, where there is poor access to expensive post-exposure vaccinations.  According to estimates by the World Health Organization, rabies takes the lives of nearly 60,000 people each year, including approximately 1,500 in Tanzania. Almost half of those are children under the age of 15.

The obvious solution is to vaccinate dogs against the disease, but it is a tough proposition in a country with limited medical resources. Guy Palmer, Regents professor in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and senior director of global health at WSU, is researching ways to create a sustainable rabies vaccination program in Tanzania. He and Felix Lankester, clinical assistant professor and director of the Serengeti Health Initiative, are investigating whether it is cost-effective to integrate mass dog rabies vaccination with mass drug administration against soil-transmitted parasitic worms in humans. Such integrated delivery platforms could be a cost-effective way to treat and control multiple neglected tropical diseases at once.

The effort is in keeping with one of the primary goals of the Allen School: improving livelihoods and public health through control of diseases transmitted from animals to humans.  With funding from the likes of the Allen Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the school’s researchers are focusing on maladies like foot-and-mouth disease, brucellosis, and anthrax.

All of these diseases undermine the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. Allen School researchers identify the diseases that do the most harm and determine how they can be effectively controlled. Its scientists rigorously measure the health, social, and economic impacts of disease prevention in helping to reduce global poverty.