Rabies victim lives on through her mother’s dedication

20 February 2017

Agnes Korir (Mama Sharon) shares her story with a fellow Kenyan, who also lost a child to rabies. (Source: Sharon Live On Foundation )While harvesting guavas with her cousins during the Christmas holidays, Sharon Korir, an 8-year old Kenyan girl, was bitten by a stray dog, which first chased her and then attacked her, leaving a small scratch on her back. Her parents took Sharon immediately to the hospital, but the child was released after just a topical cleansing of the wound. No one thought the bite was too serious because the injury was so small. Three weeks later, after Sharon had returned to school, she became severely ill and her condition continued to deteriorate; she was restless, weak, vomiting and in and out of consciousness. No one suspected rabies until Sharon tried to bite her mother. But by then it was too late to provide any life-saving treatment, and Sharon died from her rabies infection by the next day.

It was this tragedy that inspired Sharon’s mother, Dr. Agnes Korir, a lecturer at Daystar University in Nairobi, to open a foundation  in Sharon’s name—the Sharon Live On Foundation. Wanting to find a way to keep her daughter’s death from being in vain, Agnes decided to create a health advocacy organization with the help of her husband and close family friends, drawing on her background in community development to find a way to address the shortages of rabies vaccine in Kenya and to ensure more Kenyans know about the dangers of rabies. So far the foundation has received, vaccinated and distributed close to 300,000 vaccines. 270,000 of those vaccines were distributed primarily to the Kenyan county of Nandi where Sharon was bitten, but other areas of Kenya have also received assistance.  

Agnes and her husband, Barnaba Korir, together with some close friends in the United States, launched the foundation after learning about a vaccine donation program through Merck Animal Health, which provides a free dose of rabies vaccine to Africa for every dose of Merck rabies vaccines that is purchased (by other veterinarians or governments). After establishing a connection with Merck Animal Health, the Sharon Live On Foundation began to sponsor campaigns for the mass vaccination of dogs in Kenya, partnering with the Kenya Veterinary Association so that vaccine delivery to animals and localities with a high burden of rabies was more affordable and effective. Agnes often funds the foundation’s work using her own salary and relies on donations from family and friends abroad to sustain operations.

In addition, Dr. Korir has also been engaged in Kenya’s rabies elimination campaign, which was launched two years ago (see October 2016 story) as part of Kenya’s strategy for reaching the 2030 goal of rabies elimination. During the launch of the elimination campaign in 2014, Dr. Korir spoke at the ceremonies, where her personal story of how she lost her daughter helped motivate and secure the commitment of resources for rabies elimination.  Her commitment to rabies elimination also led to an invitation to serve on the national Rabies Elimination Coordination Committee.

In Dr. Korir’s application for the MSD award, one of her nominators described how exceptional her work was as a rabies educator: “Last month I joined [Dr. Korir] during dog vaccination campaigns in her home county Nandi and was deeply inspired to see her passion as she shared her story with the local communities, moving from one vaccination site to another. I saw her console a man who had lost his 12-year old girl in April 2016 and watched her give her own money to another family so that their boy could get post-exposure prophylaxis after he was bitten by a suspect rabid dog.”

Dr. Korir, less formally known as Mama Sharon, often uses her own personal story to draw attention to the devastation that rabies can cause. “Whenever I get the opportunity I always share the rabies story for it is not known by many and it is just a story until they understand that it can kill their loved ones. I live to help share the message and eradicate the rabies.” By reaching out and engaging Kenyans in their rabies story, the Korir family continues to motivate and engage local leaders and policy makers to help make the drive towards a rabies-free Kenya a reality.

By Laura Baker, GARC, summarized from the Sharon Live On website and materials submitted with Agnes Korir’s nomination for a World Rabies Day MSD Animal Health Award.