‘Rabies Causing 59K Human Deaths’

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Participants and stakeholders at the World Rabies Day 2019 program in Montserrado County

Nearly Half this number of deaths occur in Africa every year, says FAO Country Director Mariatou Njie

Mariatou Njie, United Nations Country Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the impact of rabies in humans is worrisome because the World Health Organization (WHO) said the disease has caused 59,000 deaths, constituting 99 percent of dog-related diseases.

Ms. Njie made the statement at a program marking the celebration of this year’s World Rabies Day held under the theme, “Vaccinate to Eliminate.” The program brought together participants from the Montserrado Country Health Team as well as development partners.

Held in collaboration with authorities of the ministries of Health and of Agriculture, as well as the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) and developmental partners on Saturday, September 28, 2019, Madam Njie revealed that in Africa alone, dog-related rabies accounts for 21,476 human deaths every year.

“In other words, about 60 people die every day in Africa out of rabies virus infections. Despite the disease coating the continent significantly, Africa is known to spend the least on Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP),” she said.

Madam Njie said it is important to understand that children and the rural poor bear the heaviest burden of rabies infection.

She said the commemorative day serves two main purposes, which include to raise awareness about the impact of rabies and how to prevent, control and eliminate rabies from both humans and animals; and to commemorate the death of Louis Pasteur, a renowned French Chemist and microbiologist who developed and tested the first rabies vaccines in 1885.

“The theme for this year’s rabies – Vaccinate to Eliminate – could not be more appropriate because it captures the crux of the day,” Madam Njie noted. To achieve this goal of zero human deaths to rabies by 2030 in Liberia, FAO is working with the government and other partners to overcome pressing challenges in the fight against rabies.

The Deputy USAID Mission Director Rebekah Eubanks lauded Liberia for the strides it has made in combating rabies.  Speaking on Saturday in Monrovia at a program marking the celebration of World Rabies Day, Director Eubanks said Liberia was taking the lead in the initiative to eliminate rabies in West Africa by 2030.

Madam Eubanks said USAID predicts activities in which they have forged an effective partnership with stakeholders in the fight against rabies, noting that “fighting rabies is no small task.”

She added, “Liberia should be lauded for taking the lead in the ECOWAS (sub) region initiative to eliminate rabies by 2030.” Animal bites, especially dog bite, she said, remains a threat to human fatality.

Madam Eubanks said to prevent rabies across the country, USAID has worked with her Liberian partners to establish and strengthen systems; policies that would prevent; detect and respond to emerging disease threats using the one health approach.”

She recalled that two years ago, Liberia, in concert with other donors, launched the first national vaccination campaign, which has by now provided 3,000 doses of vaccines along with the necessary logistics to ensure the success of the campaign.

She also said Liberia can take pride in the establishment of a Central Veterinary Laboratory which, through timely testing for rabies, is playing a critical role in the fight against the disease. However, she also noted that despite the successes Liberia has made against rabies, there is still much work to be done to prevent the spread of  the disease.

In this regard, she said there was a need for a well-designed public education campaign to raise awareness about rabies and how to prevent contracting it. Director Eubanks said the United States remains committed to supporting Liberia’s efforts to eliminate rabies by the year 2030.

Several Liberians representing the health sector, including the Deputy Chief of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, thanked the donor community, including USAID, GIZ, and the WHO, for the continued support for Liberia’s fight against rabies.

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