News, Infectious Disease

Merck Animal Health Supports Rabies Elimination by 2030 on World Rabies Day

#ForThemForUs campaign raises awareness about importance of dog vaccination

Merck Animal Health Supports Rabies Elimination by 2030 on World Rabies Day
Each year, an estimated 59,000 people die from rabies, with over 99% of cases contracted from a dog bite. Merck Animal Health is committed to eradicating rabies worldwide. Photo: Shutterstock/Numstocker
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Madison, N.J., Sept. 28, 2020 – In recognition of World Rabies Day on September 28, Merck Animal Health launched a global campaign to raise awareness among veterinarians, dog owners and volunteers who are committed to eliminate rabies through ongoing dog vaccination efforts. In partnership with Mission Rabies and Rabies Free Africa, the social media initiative recognizes and celebrates those individuals who are committed to protecting and saving canine as well as human lives, using the hashtag, #ForThemForUs.

“Many of us love and rely on our dogs, who in many cases are not only much-loved family members, but also hard-working companions,” said Luke Gamble, BVSc, DVM&S, FRCVS, founder, Mission Rabies. “On this World Rabies Day, we want to recognize the invaluable role dogs play in our lives. When we protect our dogs from rabies, we are also protecting ourselves from this deadly disease. Showcasing those efforts through #ForThemForUs moments is a fitting way to raise awareness about why vaccinating dogs and educating people about preventing rabies matters and saves lives.”

Around the world, there are an estimated 900 million dogs1 but the majority (75-85%) are not household pets.2 In order to prevent rabies transmission in rabies-endemic areas, at least 70% of the dogs there need to be protected through annual mass-vaccination.3 For over 20 years, Merck Animal Health, through the Afya Program, has been dedicated to rabies prevention and has donated over three million doses of rabies vaccine to help meet the World Health Organization (WHO) “Zero by 2030” goal.

Each year, an estimated 59,000 people die from rabies, with over 99% of cases contracted from a dog bite. Additionally, 40% of those deaths occur in children 15 years and under. This is in part because of low rates of canine vaccination in rabies endemic areas and a lack of awareness about the disease.

“With Merck Animal Health, we have made significant progress on the research needed to design cost-effective and efficient vaccination programs that reduce rates of rabies in both dogs and humans,” notes Felix Lankester, DVM, Ph.D., director, Rabies Free Africa, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, Washington State University. “From scientific research to actual vaccination programs, we are refining the tools we need to prevent rabies. While doing so, we must continue to work together with local governments and healthcare organizations supporting local communities as they continue rabies prevention where it is most needed. This will help us achieve our 2030 rabies elimination goal.”

Collaboration must continue among human, animal and environmental health organizations to advance sustainable rabies prevention efforts, including annual mass-vaccination. Through this One Health approach, local, regional, national and global animal health advocates all have a critical role in addressing this public health threat and must work together to keep both dogs and humans healthy.

“Experiencing first-hand the important work of our partners, veterinarians and volunteers was the inspiration behind our campaign, #ForThemForUs,” said Ingrid Deuzeman, global marketing director, Companion Animal Vaccines, Merck Animal Health. “We wanted to recognize the global community for their role in eliminating rabies – from the local veterinarian who vaccinates dogs in a veterinary clinic to the door-to-door efforts of volunteers and the Mission Rabies and Rabies Free Africa teams across the African continent and beyond to vaccinate owned and stray dogs. We hope that by everyone sharing their #ForThemForUs moments with the world, these outstanding individuals and not-for-profit organizations will gain even more awareness and support to expand rabies prevention and elimination efforts.”

For example, as a commitment to rabies vaccination in Goa, India, there have been no recorded human rabies deaths for two years. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mission Rabies local team remained essential to ensure rabies did not re-emerge in the area. Throughout this period, our team was on-call to respond to any reported rabid dogs. After several positive cases were confirmed, they also quickly launched an emergency rabies vaccination drive to prevent spread,” said Gamble.

In the U.S. specifically, Merck Animal Health partners with Rabies Free Africa to encourage veterinarians to make a difference in the fight against rabies by hosting vaccination clinics in their local community, with enticing pet promotions such as drive-through vaccinations, mobile clinics or limited-time discounts. Rabies Free Africa currently has 150 clinics participating this year, and pet owners can support the fight against rabies by bringing their dogs and cats to vaccination clinics which ultimately helps mobilize rabies elimination projects. Rabies Free Africa is working with Merck AH and several partners to host a multi-site vaccination clinic across King County, Washington and provide free vaccines for underserved areas of the community.

Merck Animal Health is donating 100% of the Nobivac® vaccines utilized by Rabies Free Africa and Mission Rabies.

“At Merck Animal Health, we have an unconditional commitment to save and improve lives around the world,” says Deuzeman. “The #ForThemForUs campaign seamlessly complements our corporate values by paying tribute to the veterinarians, dog owners, volunteers and organizations committed to protecting and saving canine and human lives from rabies. We see veterinarians, volunteers and others carrying out lifesaving rabies prevention activities every day, which gave us the idea for the #ForThemForUs recognition initiative. Elimination is possible when you have so many people working together to raise awareness and keep animals and people healthy.”

Veterinarians, dog owners and volunteers are invited to share photos and videos of their inspirational work in keeping dogs rabies-free, using the hashtag, #ForThemForUs.

About Mission Rabies

Mission Rabies was initially founded as an initiative by Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), a United Kingdom-based charity group that assists animals. Mission Rabies has a One Health approach driven by research to eliminate dog bite transmitted rabies (a disease that is estimated to kill 59,000 people annually). Launched in September 2013 with a mission to vaccinate 50,000 dogs against rabies across India, Mission Rabies teams have since then vaccinated 1.1 million dogs and educated more than three million children in dog bite prevention in rabies endemic countries. For more information, visit www.missionrabies.com.

About Rabies Free Africa

Rabies Free Africa is empowering countries in east Africa to create self-sustaining programs to eliminate current human rabies deaths and set up surveillance systems to identify future outbreaks for containment. To reach the global goal by 2030, the focus needs to be on decreasing the cost of vaccinating dogs and increasing access to vaccines. Rabies Free Africa continues its work to discover ways to decrease the cost of mass-dog vaccinations and refine country and continent-wide programs that make the best use of limited resources. For more information, visit www.globalhealth.wsu.edu/initiatives/rabies-free-africa/.

About the Afya Program

The Afya Program comprises a number of rabies control projects supported by Merck Animal Health rabies vaccine donations, including Rabies Free Africa, Mission Rabies and The Sharon Live On Project. These projects have been brought together under the name “Afya,” which means “health” in Swahili. The Afya Program is committed to supporting the Zero by 30 Initiative, with the goal of eliminating rabies by 2030. For more information, visit www.afya.org.

 

References

1. World Atlas. How Many Dogs Are There In The World? Accessed June 15, 2020. worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-dogs-are-there-in-the-world.html

2. World Atlas. How Many Dogs Are There In The World? Accessed June 15, 2020. worldatlas.com/articles/how-many-dogs-are-there-in-the-world.html

3. The World Health Organization. Frequently Asked Questions about Rabies for the General Public. Accessed June 15, 2020. who.int/rabies/Rabies_General_Public_FAQs_Sep2018.pdf?ua=1

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