Most dog owners adore their pets, and “pet selfies” are a popular way of expressing the joy of the bond between human and animal. A new campaign by a charity is using pet selfies to drive forwards an important goal: the global eradication of rabies.
The concept is simple. Take a selfie of yourself with your pet, then upload it to the charity website. When you reach the uploading page, you’ll be asked if you want to make a donation: even a couple of pounds will do. The idea is to make this a viral campaign: if enough people do this, the charity will raise a game-changing sum of money, and the goal of rabies eradication will be a step closer.
There’s an irony to the idea of “dog and owner” pictures being used to counter rabies: 99% of human cases of rabies are caused by dog bites. If it wasn’t for the close relationship between humans and dogs, rabies wouldn’t be an issue.
The fact is that rabies is a big issue: over 150 people die of the disease every day, mostly in Africa and Asia. Scientists have worked out how to eradicate rabies. If 70% of all dogs in an area are vaccinated once against rabies, the disease dwindles and disappears. They’ve done it in South America over the past thirty years. In 1983, Latin America committed to mass dog vaccination: dog rabies cases in the region declined from a peak of 25,000 in 1977 to just 196 in 2011, and human cases fell by 96 per cent to only 15 across the whole continent. The aim of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control is to achieve the same levels of success in Africa and Asia.
While it sounds simple to vaccinate 70% of the dogs in an area, it’s difficult to do this in practice, on the ground, in real-life situations. A level of systematic organisation is necessary and in many parts of the world, it’s difficult to make dog vaccination a high enough priority for this to happen. But although it’s difficult, it’s not impossible.
Every year, more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-exposure rabies vaccination, after being bitten by a dog, to prevent the disease – this is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually. This includes millions of people in Asia and Africa, and it’s a fact that may contain the seed of an answer to the problem. It’s much more costly to give post-exposure vaccination to a human than to give a one-off vaccine to a dog. If some of the funds used for human treatments could be diverted to vaccinate dogs, this would make it much easier to reach the goal of 70% vaccine coverage. If this was achieved, there would no longer be the same need for post-exposure vaccination: money spent would translate to money saved. On the ground, it’s difficult to move funds around like this: human health departments fund the human vaccinations, whereas animal health departments pay for dog vaccines.
Under the new concept of “One Health”, it’s recognised that human and animal health are closely intertwined. The human and animal health departments should be talking to each other, and funds should be easily transferred between them for projects like rabies control. Unfortunately, due to tradition and human issues of control, it isn’t easy to make this happen.
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control is doing its best to achieve this type of change, and the good news is that you can help them today. Go to this website: https://meandmydog.rabiesalliance.org/ and scroll down. You’ll see a blue box that says ‘Share’ and if you click on ‘choose file’, it will automatically launch a window that will allow you to select a photo from your computer.
You and your dog may only make a small difference, but if we all do it, we and our dogs together may be enough to change the world. Our generation can eradicate rabies and wouldn’t it be fitting if our own dogs joined us in that goal?