Rabies and primary animal healthcare community engagement in South Africa

In an exciting collaboration between the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and the University of Pretoria, 1000 Want a Friend, Be a Friend booklets* were distributed to various schools in the Gauteng, Limpopo and North West Provinces of South Africa. The distribution of the booklets was undertaken by third year veterinary students of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Professional Life (VPL 300) course. The Want a Friend booklets were used as part of their community engagement module, which focused on rabies control in the community. The veterinary students were tasked with creating innovative and engaging ways to have the greatest positive impact on the community with which they worked.

The majority of veterinary students visited primary schools, using the Want a Friend booklet as the basis of their interactive sessions with the children. Through some ingenuity and creativity, veterinary students also planned their own talks, presentations and shows to encourage enthusiasm about the topic of primary animal healthcare, responsible pet ownership, bite prevention and rabies prevention. 

This booklet allowed us to structure our lesson plan in a fun and interactive manner as it gave us a fantastic guide line from which to work off”. – Michaela Simon at Onderstepoort Primary School

The booklets—combined with the interactive sessions planned by the veterinary students—enabled the school learners in each of the schools to learn about important topics related to health, animal welfare and safety in their communities in a fun way.

“The learners got involved, allowing us to have an interactive session where the learners showed their knowledge of animal welfare, as well as, to have some fun”. – VPL 300 Group 12 Students at Kosea Moeka Primary School

In order to ensure that the school learners retained the important information presented throughout the day with the VPL 300 students, each learner received a certificate showcasing that they know how to be safe around dogs from the back of the Want a Friend booklet. The certificate provided learners with a sense of importance and achievement, whilst also acting as a reminder about the things taught from the veterinary students.

“They seemed thrilled to have received a certificate for rabies education at the back of their books, which qualified them to be superheroes too!” – VPL 300 Group 31 students at Mogale Primary School

The continued education of communities, especially children, about responsible pet ownership, primary animal healthcare, dog bite prevention and rabies prevention will be an essential part in facilitating efforts towards rabies control and elimination, as well as promoting the humane treatment of animals. We hope that these community engagement efforts leave a long-lasting, positive impression upon communities and that the vital messages purveyed during these programmes is fostered and passed on to others.

* The printing of the booklets was supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number, [1U2GGH001874-01], funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Contributed by Terence Scott, GARC, and a member of the Pan-African Rabies Control Network (PARACON) Steering Committee