Parliamentary intern Anthony Ridge has been researching neglected tropical diseases and uses rabies control as an example of how veterinary services can benefit the health and welfare of animals and people.
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My recent activities as parliamentary intern have mostly involved ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs) and, during the past month, I have attended an NTD conference, watched an NTD lecture given by ex-US president Jimmy Carter, prepared a briefing on NTDs in Sudan and prepared for an NTD debate in the House of Lords (VR, February 13, 2016, vol 178, p 156). I suspect that the term ‘neglected tropical disease’ is unfamiliar to many, and this is perhaps unsurprising. The term refers to a set of human diseases predominantly affecting poor communities in tropical countries. These are horrific diseases afflicting over one billion people worldwide and contributing to a vicious cycle of poverty. While this may seem of little relevance to the average UK vet there are many reasons why we should be interested, not least because, as vets, we are well qualified to make a difference.
Vets are familiar with seeing and treating parasitic diseases that account for a large proportion of NTDs. In fact, one of the drugs commonly used in humans to combat some NTDs (ivermectin) was originally developed for the veterinary market. Vets also have a role to play as several NTDs are zoonotic so understanding animal health is crucial for their control. One such disease is rabies.
Although well controlled in Europe, rabies kills around 60,000 people per year globally, particularly in Africa and Asia. Ninety-nine per cent of these cases are transmitted to people via bites from domestic dogs, which is surprising given that the knowledge and tools for rabies prevention have been around for decades. We have safe and effective vaccines for both humans and animals, but what is lacking is the ability to bring these resources to the communities that need them.⇓
As a student I spent several weeks with a charity in India neutering and vaccinating stray dogs and saw first-hand the benefits this brought locally. Dogs were feared less and understood more; veterinary care was provided for dogs and also for other domestic and wild animals in the area; dog vaccination helped to protect humans from rabies; and the charity itself provided employment for dozens of people in local communities. Charities such as Mission Rabies and the Worldwide Veterinary Service are doing great work in supporting these kinds of projects, but a lot more needs to be done.
Lord Trees co-hosted the launch of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control's ‘End Rabies Now’ campaign at the House of Lords on February 24. This campaign's target is to eliminate dog-transmitted human rabies by 2030. It is inspiring to see so many partners working together to achieve this goal, including the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Veterinary Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I hope that 2016 will be remembered as the year that the world united to combat rabies and that, in 15 years' time, vets will be able to look back with pride on the part we played.
More information on the campaign is available at https://endrabiesnow.org