World Rabies Day: An opportunity for rabies advocacy

30Sep 2019
The Guardian
World Rabies Day: An opportunity for rabies advocacy

World Rabies Day is an international awareness campaign coordinated by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, a non-profit organisation with headquarters in the United States.

It is a United Nations Observance  and has been endorsed by international human and veterinary health organizations such as the World Health Organization,  the Pan American Health Organization,  the World Organisation for Animal Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  World Rabies Day takes place each year on September 28, the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur who, with the collaboration of his colleagues, developed the first efficacious rabies vaccine. World Rabies Day aims to raise awareness about the impact of rabies on humans and animals, provide information and advice on how to prevent the disease in at-risk communities, and support advocacy for increased efforts in rabies control.  

Rabies remains a significant health problem in many countries of the world. Over 99 per cent of all human deaths caused by rabid dog bites happen in the developing world,  with 95 per cent of deaths occurring in Africa and Asia.  With the exception of Antarctica, people and animals on every continent are at risk of contracting rabies.  

One major problem with rabies prevention is a lack of basic life-saving knowledge among people at risk. Organizations working on the issue can often feel isolated, and, as a neglected disease, rabies does not attract sufficient resources, even though the world has the tools and knowledge to prevent rabies and nobody needs to die from this disease.

Health awareness days can help to improve policy on diseases[10] and increase resources to prevent and control them. This understanding led to the development of an awareness day against rabies.

The first World Rabies Day campaign took place on 8 September 2007 as a partnership between the Alliance for Rabies Control and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA, with the co-sponsorship of the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Pan American Health Organization [Briggs D, Hanlon CA. World Rabies Day: focusing attention on a neglected disease. In 2009, after three World Rabies Days, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control estimated that rabies prevention and awareness events had taken place in over 100 countries, that nearly 100 million people worldwide had been educated about rabies and that nearly 3 million dogs had been vaccinated during events linked to the campaign.  

A 2011 review by a network of international government agencies, academics, NGOs and vaccine manufacturers identified World Rabies Day as a useful tool to assist with rabies prevention, targeting at-risk communities, animal health workers, public health practitioners, governments, key opinion leaders and experts.  

In the years following the review, World Rabies Day has also been used by governments and international agencies as a day on which to announce policies, plans and progress on rabies elimination. For example, In 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, the World Health Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health first called for the global elimination of canine-mediated rabies in a joint statement released on World Rabies Day. At the first Pan-African Rabies Control Network meeting in 2015, the 33 African countries represented there recommended consideration of World Rabies Day as an opportunity for rabies advocacy. 

World Rabies Day was created to be an inclusive day of education, awareness and action to encourage groups from all levels, the international to the local, to increase the spread of rabies prevention messages. Its objectives include raising global awareness about rabies and how to stop the disease, and educating people in rabies-endemic countries to prevent rabies.

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