An end to human rabies deaths - The time is now!

Delegates from around the world gathered in Geneva on 10-11th December 2015 for a landmark meeting, entitled “Global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies: The time is now”. The meeting had 4 objectives:

  • Disseminate results of the proof of concept for the elimination of dog-mediated rabies;
  • Build support and the case for investment to progress towards dog-mediated rabies elimination;
  • Promote a One Health inter-sectoral collaboration approach;
  • Shape the forward vision agenda with shared purpose for the elimination of dog-transmitted human rabies.

It was hosted by WHO and OIE with the support of FAO and GARC. Delegates included key representatives of Ministries of Health, Veterinary Services and national rabies coordinating bodies, rabies experts from the veterinary and the human health sectors and international organisations, policy-makers, non-governmental organisations, donors and the private sector.

In her welcoming address, Dr Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, started with a very simple message: “Rabies belongs in the history books. This event will help put it there.”

The meeting showcased a series of demonstration projects, in particular those coordinated by the WHO and funded by the BMGF in South Africa, Tanzania and the Philippines, which also form the core of evidence in the Rationale for investing in the global elimination of dog-mediated human rabies, released on World Rabies Day 2015. Time and time again the data presented showed that dog vaccination can effectively reduce rabies cases in dogs, and that human deaths are tightly linked to the number of cases of rabies in dogs.

Rabies programme managers elaborated on the critical components of elimination programmes including mass dog vaccination, dog bite prevention, One Health collaborations and education of at risk communities. Presentations also detailed how OIE and WHO rabies vaccine banks have enabled countries improved access to high quality vaccines at an affordable price to support their efforts towards elimination, and are set to be integrated into future strategies against canine rabies.

The need for cross border collaborations and the value of rabies control ‘champions’ was demonstrated many times over, and regional networks will be key to achieving sustainable progress. There were strong calls for regional control plans to be developed and strengthened and in this context GARC’s Canine Rabies Control Blueprint and the Stepwise Approach Towards Rabies Elimination (SARE) were recognized as valuable tools to support countries in planning, implementing and assessing progress towards elimination.

The increase in rabies awareness due to the past 9 years of World Rabies Day was highlighted and that this work will be amplified by the new End Rabies Now campaign which aims to build the political and financial support to end human deaths.

Time for questions and feedback from delegates allowed productive engagement and discussion which was captured to feed into the meeting outcomes.

The meeting clearly demonstrated the current momentum in rabies control, and highlighted the evidence that canine rabies elimination is feasible, equitable and that dog vaccination is the only long term solution to end human rabies deaths.  All the international institutions are aligned with a clear multi-sectoral approach. One very concrete outcome of the meeting was agreement on a new global framework to eliminate rabies, to achieve the strategic vision of Zero deaths from dog mediated rabies by 2030 worldwide. 

The meeting was a significant milestone, but as Dr Bernard Vallat, director-general of the OIE, and several others made clear throughout the meeting, the extent to which we as a global community are able to achieve this strategic vision depends on what each and every delegate does next to capitalize on recent achievements.

Prof Louis Nel, Executive Director of GARC said, “We have come a long way in the past few years in finding a global consensus for rabies control and elimination. Backed by the recently launched End Rabies Now campaign, the prospects for maximising our cumulative efforts have never been more promising. Now is the time to grasp a unique opportunity to ensure that we eliminate human deaths from canine rabies by 2030”.

The conference website and Twitter feed give further information on the conference and access to all the supporting materials.

Submitted by Louise Taylor, GARC