Yes, there are diseases that command more media attention, but veterinary science is uniquely positioned to break the rabies disease cycle and save lives.
BY Entrepreneurs Organization – 24 May 2018
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Elizabeth Green, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Tulsa, is founder and CEO of Brief Media which provides essential veterinary medical literature in an abbreviated format. The company is partnered with Mission Rabies to help bring awareness to the problem of rabies and to support communities where the disease is rampant. We asked Elizabeth how she and her partners are combatting rabies. Here’s what she shared.
There are many health and community issues in the developing world. Why focus on rabies?
Every year, an estimated 50,000-100,000 people in Africa and India alone die from rabies. Children are predominantly the victims of this horrific disease, and death is a near-certain outcome. Certainly, there are other diseases with higher death rates that command media attention in developing parts of the world: HIV/AIDS, malaria, ischemic heart disease, to name just a few. However, rabies is unique among them because veterinary science, not human medicine, can more effectively save both animal and human lives. By vaccinating at least 70 percent of the dog population in affected communities, human mortality decreases by 95 percent within five years. Not only is the cost to vaccinate animals 90 percent less than the cost of a human vaccine, but also vaccinating the dog population instead of the human population enables the disease cycle to be broken in each community, equating to more animal and human lives saved.
How has your team worked to bring about awareness and prevention of rabies?
To date, our efforts have been focused in Malawi, but in 2018 we’re sending teams to both Goa, India and Malawi, Africa. When our team–which includes veterinarians, veterinary nurses and animal welfare officers–arrives in these communities, in addition to setting up vaccination clinics and capturing dogs in the neighborhoods, we dedicate time to educating the community and the schools.
In 2016, our volunteers spent four weeks in Malawi, vaccinating 35,000 dogs and educating 96,000 children about the disease. In 2017, we vaccinated 34,000 dogs and educated 137,000 children.
Elizabeth Green (center) and Lead Volunteer Jessica Foley (right) work to increase rabies awareness through TV interviews about the disease.
Education is a critical part of the effort to reduce rabies. In April 2018, Mission Rabies announced a milestone: The education of 1 million children in Malawi about the dangers of rabies, the importance of rabies first aid and responsible dog ownership. The more they learn, the more compliant these communities are with our efforts.
In the US, we’ve also participated in public relations engagements including TV appearances, social media campaigns and presentations to Rotary Clubs, in an effort to increase rabies awareness. It’s not a problem that Americans think about a great deal, but when they find out that the disease kills 100 children a day worldwide, they’re often eager to help.
Why have you chosen Malawi, Africa and Goa, India to center your efforts?
Mission Rabies focuses on these communities because they have the highest-known human mortality rates from rabies and are therefore the areas where we can have the most impact. Without funding for rabies vaccinations that are standard in the US and developed countries, this highly contagious disease is spread by wildlife such as bats and then quickly infects the domesticated dog populations within a villagewho then typically bite young children.
How have you measured the impact of your work?
While reporting in under-developed countries is always difficult, the Mission Rabies team has been tracking known animal cases of rabies and human mortality rates in these areas. Significant declines have already been documented, and a 95 percent reduction in human mortality is expected in the communities where successful drives have been conducted.
What is your ultimate goal or vision?
Our bilateral goal is to save human and animal lives from rabies and raise the level of awareness in the US. The work that we’ve done so far has led to a generous amount of PR in the US. As a result, a grant penned by our global editor, Dr. Colin Burrows, has received approval from Rotary Internationalthe organization synonymous with eliminating polio worldwideto support efforts to reduce rabies in developing countries.
Our work supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 3: Good health and well-being. Utilizing our knowledge in veterinary medicine to save both animal and human lives is incredibly rewarding. I can’t imagine anything more horrible than to be a parent watching their child contract, suffer and then die from rabies.
Last year, when one of our teams was going door-to-door to check for unvaccinated dogs, our veterinarian asked the family the name of their dog that we were about to vaccinate. They said their dog, Jessie, was named after one of our team members from the previous year, who had visited and helped them. We are likely impacting more than just rabies by sharing compassion with these families.
Elizabeth Green was nominated for EO’s 2018 Global Citizen of the Year award for her work in helping to transform our world by eradicating rabies.