Mass Dog Vaccination in Bangladesh: The silent Revolution towards rabies elimination

  • Community News

An unprecedented task, mass dog vaccination (MDV) found its footing in Bangladesh during November 2011 through a pilot project in Cox's Bazaar, a district municipality. Neither the Livestock department nor any other organization had any experience of MDV in Bangladesh, where >80% of the dogs are stray.

Three coincidences catalyzed the MDV piloting; the initiation of a rabies elimination program by Bangladesh,  an allocation of funds from WHO for rabies control activity and the first visit of WSPA to Bangladesh. Following successful piloting in Cox's Bazaar, MDV was subsequently done in another municipality (urban location) and a subdistrict (rural location) in one southern district (Satkhira) of the country in April, 2012. MDV was then scaled up to cover the municipalities of four divisions out of 7 of the country. Within two months (September-October, 2012) most of the district municipalities of the four divisions were covered by MDV.

The MDV campaign of Bangladesh during 2011-12 represented a paradigm shift from control to elimination of rabies as the national strategy of Bangladesh. From inexperience, we gathered experience. From cruel dog catchers (who used to catch dogs for killing) our dog catchers (most of them were cleaners of municipalites) became expert and friendly catchers and in around 60% of cases, they can catch dogs with simply their hands. The cattle and poultry field staff vaccinated thousand dogs to become expert dog vaccinators. Starting from 'no funds' we could mobilize sufficient funds for a MDV campaign over the last 3 years. We now have a national strategy, functional committees, a strong team, funds and logistics to move forward.

Through the experience of MDV in 58 metropolitan cities and municipalities, we now believe we can complete MDV throughout the country and are implementing measures towards elimination rather than control. There is not much media coverage or reporting on the MDV of Bangladesh; neither locally nor internationally, but it has been a silent revolution towards rabies elimination in the country.

The MDV campaign of Bangladesh bears some unique characteristics.  It is done within a very short time span in each of the sites, requiring just 3 days for the main campaign. Capacity building was done in each of the sites to facilitate the campaigns and support MDV in the adjoining region. General people like cleaners were trained and used successfully for catching dogs. Dog catchers gaining experience were mobilized to other cities to train new catchers and thereby we have now more than a thousand expert dog catchers in the country.

The cost-effectiveness of the MDV is another unique feature with the average cost per dog around 1 USD. The cost could be reduced through local adoption of international methods and appropriate technology. The leadership of the ministry of health in MDV is an unprecedented initiative to facilitate rabies elimination, and may be regarded as an example for other countries to follow. Too often, neither livestock nor health ministries are willing to conduct MDV, the prime component for achieving rabies elimination and thereby letting the rabies transmission to sustain for centuries.

There has been true one health approach involving multisectors in the MDV program of Bangladesh. Along with health, livestock, local government and education sectors, WHO, FAO, OIE, WSPA, HSI, RIAF, all contributed in different ways to the MDV program. We are expecting contribution of other organizations like GARC in the effort of Bangladesh to achieve elimination of this thousand years old havoc.

Bangladesh is now at a crucial stage of their rabies elimination program. It has traversed quite a distance within a short time, but has to cover a long distance yet to reach the goal. There is political commitment, allocation of funds within the health ministry and good experience gathered so far. Logical support from concerned organization can lead the country towards a successful end and create an example for other countries to follow.

Contributed by Prof. Be-Nazir Ahmed, Director Disease Control, MHFW, Bangladesh and Chairperson, RIAF, Bangladesh.