Throughout the world, thousands of lives are still lost every year due to rabies. In honor of World Rabies Awareness Day, let's encourage education and awareness, taking the simple steps necessary to keep animals and humans safe.
In 2011, I attended a reunion of former track athletes at Iowa State University. Our former coach, Bill Bergan, hosted a reception at his house, where he displayed photos from a trip he had recently taken to Africa to visit some former ISU runners.
One of the pictures caught my attention. It was a picture of a grave site. “Coach, what is this?” I asked. He explained that it was the grave of the 8-year-old daughter of one of our former teammates. He told the story of how she was bitten by a rabid dog and died a couple weeks later.
If 70% of the dogs in an area are vaccinated there is a 90% reduction in rabies cases.
The picture of the grave would not leave my thoughts. How horrible. No one should die of rabies, especially an 8-year-old little girl. What would her life be if she had not been bitten? Would she have been a doctor? A teacher? A scientist? Or maybe even a veterinarian? We will never know because she was bitten by a rabid dog.
The Start of Rabies Control & Prevention in Kenya
I am a food animal veterinarian from Iowa. I had minimal knowledge of the impact of rabies in the rest of the world but started to research. Experts say that over 70,000 people die each year throughout the world. They also claim almost all of the cases come from dog bites. However, if 70% of the dogs in an area are vaccinated there is a 90% reduction in rabies cases.
At this point, I was intrigued enough to want to take action. I contacted the parents of little Sharon Korir, Barnaba and Agnes. I asked whether there was a rabies prevention program in there area. They explained that there was not. I said, "There will be, and it will be in honor of your daughter."
Together, we started the Sharon Live On Project. We have vaccinated thousands of dogs and have provided education on rabies prevention to reduce potential rabies exposures. This program helped trigger a nation-wide prevention program in Kenya.
I’ve often been asked what determines the success of the program. My answer? If one child is now alive because of our vaccines, then it is a success. Has that happened? I don’t know. Maybe one child, maybe one hundred. But, I know we do our best.
Rabies Control Application to COVID-19
This story brings to mind what is happening in this country now with COVID-19. The experts say that if we wear masks and social distance, we can prevent the spread. I’m hard pressed to understand the reluctance of a large portion of our society to believe this information. I don’t doubt the accuracy of this information anymore than I doubt that vaccinating dogs prevents rabies in humans.
I believed the experts enough to travel to Kenya to hopefully save one life. Can we as a society put faith in our experts enough to simply wear masks in public?
We save an unknown number of lives by vaccinating just one dog. Will we save a life by just wearing a mask? Maybe two lives, or maybe many? We'll never know, but I know that we should do our best.
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