Smart vaccine scheme quick to curb rabies threat in African cities

rabies vaccine

More people could be protected from life-threatening rabies thanks to an agile approach to dog vaccination using smart phone technology to spot areas of low vaccination coverage in real time.

Vets used a smart phone app to help them halve the time it takes to complete dog vaccination programs in the Malawian city of Blantyre, publishing their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The custom-made app lets them quickly spot areas with low inoculation rates in real time, allowing them to jab more dogs more quickly, and with fewer staff.

Researchers predict that more than one million people globally will die from rabies between 2020 and 2035 if dog vaccination rates—coupled with treatment immediately following a bite—do not increase.

Current mass vaccination programs include door-to-door visits, which ensure high uptake, but are costly and time consuming. Drop-in centres are more efficient, but do not treat as many dogs, and can be difficult for owners to reach.

Research showed that distance from drop-in centres was the biggest reason why owners did not get their dog vaccinated,

To overcome this, vets led by the University of Edinburgh and the charity Mission Rabies applied their data-driven approach using the app developed with the Worldwide Veterinary Service. The app allows the team to record data on vaccinations and access GPS locations.

The team increased the numbers of drop-in centres within around 800 metres of owners’ homes from 44 to 77—a distance that their research indicated most owners were willing to walk.

In areas with low uptake, they used ‘roaming’- vaccine stations quickly set up to serve localised areas with low vaccine coverage, such as at the end of a street. The vets also engaged with local communities and media to raise awareness of the scheme.

They targeted 70 per cent of the city’s dog population—around 35,000 animals—and vaccinated them in 11 days, compared with 20 days using the previous approach. The scheme needed 904 staff-days, as opposed to 1719.

Researchers say the findings have the potential to not only benefit urban dog populations, but also farmers whose livestock is at risk of infection from dogs.


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