Egypt marks 'World Rabies Day'

Ingy Deif, Wednesday 29 Sep 2021

‘World Rabies Day’ is celebrated every year on 28 September to raise awareness on the risk of rabies as well as mobilise efforts to eradicate the disease.

Stray dogs
File Photo: Stray dogs are in Cairo. AFP

Rabies is a disease which can be transmitted to humans by animal bites or scratches mainly from dogs.

According to the most recent statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the estimated number of deaths caused by human rabies is 65,000 cases annually.

The disease is still common around the world with rabid dogs responsible for 99 percent of human infections.

In Egypt, the occasion was marked in the presence of a large number of stakeholders involved in combating rabies in the country.

The Strategic Framework for Elimination of Dog-Mediated Human Rabies in Egypt was developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Population, the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, and the Ministry of Environment, along with support from the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

The aim of this national strategic framework is to reach zero human dog-mediated rabies-related deaths by 2030, a goal consistent with the global action plan set in 2015 by the WHO.

In Egypt, control of human rabies and animal bites is included in the national surveillance system of the health ministry. 

Despite the considerable underreporting, the average number of clinically reported cases of human rabies in Egypt is around 50 cases annually, with most cases reported among children 5-14 years of age in rural areas mostly.

In a statement released by the Egyptian health ministry, it was highlighted that the strategic framework of combating the disease consists of seven pillars.

The pillars include establishing and enhancing the multi-sectoral approach to rabies nationwide, eliminating rabies among animals by managing the dog population, mass dog vaccination and the promotion of responsible pet ownership, preventing rabies in humans by providing proper management of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and raising awareness about rabies and animal bites.

They also include strengthening surveillance systems in both humans and animals; advocacy, communication, and social support to raise community awareness and knowledge on dealing with animals; mobilising needed resources; and promoting operational research.

“The preventive sector, through the General Department for Infectious Diseases Control, aims to improve preventive services in the field of surveillance and control of common diseases in general, and rabies in particular,” Dr. Alaa Eid, the head of the Preventive Medicine Sector at the Ministry of Health and Population, said at the event.

“There are more than 300 centres distributed throughout Egypt [to treat the disease],” he added.

“A plan has been [set in motion] to automate treatment centres for biting and scratching from animals, as these centers are the mainstay in the fight against rabies. The mechanisation of these services keeps pace with the general trend of Egypt within the digital transformation plan, and on the other hand, contributes to facilitating the service provided to the citizen as well as improving the quality of data and information, which helps in taking the necessary and correct procedures and decisions at the right time.”

The ministries of health and agriculture are working with other ministries to capitalise on efforts for prevention and control of animal and human rabies in Egypt.

“Until recently, the global response to rabies was characterised by fragmentation and lack of coordination,” said Dr. Naima El-Kassir, the WHO’s representative in Egypt and head of the mission.

“Now, for the first time, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the Global Rabies Alliance are joining forces under the ‘One Health Approach’ to support countries as they accelerate action to eliminate dog-transmitted rabies by 2030.”

According to the WHO, the total number of reported animal bites worldwide were 482,040 in 2018, compared to 431,917 in 2017, and 355,373 in 2016. It seems that this trend of increasing incidents of animal bites is continuing with 574,149 cases reported in 2019, indicating a 20 percent increase from the previous year. It was also observed that more than 70 percent of cases of animal bites came from stray dogs.

Rabies is 100 percent preventable by vaccinating people. Approximately 29 million people receive PEP worldwide annually.

PEP costs $40-50 per person, which is too much for families living at the average of $1- 2 per person a day.

Vaccines are not only available for humans, but also for animals, which is crucial to preventing rabies.

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