Returning to rabies elimination: the MERACON network takes off.
With so much focus on COVID-19, rabies control and elimination activities have, understandably, been less of a priority in most countries. While rabies may not be prioritized, it does not mean that the disease simply pauses or disappears. In fact, the opposite is true and major setbacks such as other severe disease outbreaks have had a huge influence on rabies elimination activities.
COVID-19 has caused such setbacks to rabies elimination, but with the recent developments and global roll out of the vaccine, GARC aimed to re-invigorate interest in rabies elimination in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa Rabies Control (MERACON) network.
MERACON is the third regional rabies control network to be formed under the secretariat of GARC. Importantly, the MERACON network is aligned with the objectives of the “Zero by 30: Global Strategic Plan” as well as with the other regional rabies networks, namely PARACON in sub-Saharan Africa and ARACON in Asia. These rabies-dedicated networks promote cohesion and a unified, standardized approach to rabies elimination globally. Although newly branded and aligned, the MERACON network in fact builds upon the past successes of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and North Africa Rabies Expert Bureau (MEEREB) network that was formed under the guidance and secretariat of our partners at Fondation Merieux. Through our collaboration and close partnership, we have jointly formed the MERACON network to continue to build upon those successes – focusing on supporting countries in their own efforts to reach freedom from dog rabies.
Initially, an in-person MERACON meeting had been planned, but it was quickly delayed and then finally changed into a virtual meeting due to international travel restrictions. Therefore, on 26 February 2021, the first MERACON meeting was held. Twenty-one (21) participants from 9 MERACON participating states, along with international experts from another 12 countries globally, attended the virtual meeting.
The webinar focused on introducing the focal persons to the various support tools that are on offer, including the following:
- The Stepwise Approach towards Rabies Elimination (SARE), which Algeria had already undertaken in 2019 and presented on in this webinar.
- The dedicated rabies surveillance tools that GARC offers, including the Rabies Epidemiological Bulletin, the Rabies Vaccination Tracker (RVT) tool and the Rabies Case Surveillance (RCS) tool.
- The GARC Education Platform (GEP) and the skill-development courses that are available free of charge.
In summary, the aim of the MERACON meeting was to build momentum with the different participating states using the various tools and resources that GARC offers. We will continue to work with our partners and the country focal persons to drive rabies elimination efforts forward towards the global goal of Zero by 30.
We would like to especially thank all the focal persons who attended, as well as our partners at Fondation Merieux for their continued support, without which the meeting would never have been possible.
If you are interested in listening to the presentations from the MERACON meeting, you can find them all here.
A list of all MERACON participating states can be found here. If your country is not currently part of the MERACON network, please contact us. GARC’s regional rabies control networks are inclusive networks and no country within the region will be excluded.
Article contributed by Dr Terence Scott, Technical Lead Rabies and MERACON steering committee lead.