Ghana must be serious about rabies eradication

Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, a Public Health Specialist, has urged the government to demonstrate the political will towards eradicating rabies, which is a deadly disease.

He also called for the vaccination of 75 per cent of the dog population every month.

Dr Asiedu-Bekoe was addressing the theme; “Human Rabies in Ghana”, to mark the World Rabies Day, at a programme to create awareness of the disease and to educate school children on its prevention.

According to veterinary experts, the annual mass anti-rabies vaccination has not been carried out in Ghana in the last decade.

A WHO technical report has shown that about 60,000 people, mostly children, die from human dog mediated rabies annually, mostly in Africa and Asia and has thus recommended that immunization campaigns be intensified to eradicate rabies in every community.

Dr Asiedu-Bekoe said the situation posed a significant health and economic burden and incurred the annual use of 70 million doses of human rabies vaccines in an estimated 20 million people, mostly in developing countries.

The programme was organised by Rabies in West Africa (RIWA), with the Veterinary Services Directorate, Ghana Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (GSPCA) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture; (MOFA). It was sponsored by the Rotary Club and Accra Brewery Limited.

Dr Asiedu-Bekoe called for the enforcement of laws on the movement of dogs, the training of medical staff to best handle the situation, which includes categories of exposures, investigation of animal outbreaks and identification of human contacts with suspect animals, and the immunization of persons with proven or probable exposure to rabies.

He described rabies, “as an acute neurological syndrome (encephalitis), viral zoonosis of which a number of carnivores and bat species serve as natural reservoirs.”

“It is spread by infected saliva that enters the body through a bite or broken skin and travels from the wound to the brain, where it causes swelling, or inflammation”.

He said challenges encountered in the management and control of the disease include poor data on dog bites and rabies, non-adherence to case management guidelines, low coverage of routine vaccination in dogs, late reporting of dog bites, inadequate access to Anti Rabies Vaccine and Post Exposure Prophylaxis, which are expensive.

He said it was possible to prevent rabies if immunization was given soon after the bite, explaining that, on record, no one had ever developed rabies after being given the vaccine promptly and appropriately.

However, he said, once the symptoms manifest, the person rarely survived the disease, even with treatment.

Death from respiratory failure usually occurs within seven days after symptoms start, while left untreated, rabies could lead to coma and death.

The Public Health official quoted reports as stating that the societal cost of rabies worldwide is in excess of US$ 6 billion annually, and this included an estimated US$ 1.6 billion spent on post-exposure prophylaxis.

Dr Helena Acquah, an Epidemiologist, said reports from Field Epidermiolog and Laboratory Network of Ghana last month, indicated that the disease was increasing as the record showed that for the past five years, between 20 and 22 deaths of humans were through rabies.

She said about 20 cases in animals like cats and dogs were recorded monthly and advised that a dog, which bites a human being must not be killed but taken to the Veterinary for proper investigation.

Mr David Nyoagbe, a co-founder of the Ghana Society for the protection and care of animals, appealed to the public to be responsible owners of pets like dogs and cats to ensure a healthy community.

He explained that after 14 days of dog bite the victim tended to react like the dog and the disease would become difficult to treat.

To prevent complications, he advised victims of dog bites to immediately wash the wounds with water and seek immediate medical attention.

RIWA is a member of Pan Africa Alliance of Rabies Control (PARACON) of Global Alliance for Rabies Control. GNA

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