Education essential in fight against rabies, expert says
Rabies education in schools could play a more prominent role in the fight against the disease, a study suggests.
Researchers found that children in Malawi who received rabies lessons had greater knowledge of the disease than those who had only been exposed to vaccination campaigns.
The lessons included information about improving rabies prevention by immediately washing bite wounds.
Prompt and thorough wound treatment may be the only chance to stop the virus entering victims’ nervous system, because of frequent vaccine shortages.
Washing bite wounds with water, soap, detergent, iodine or other virus destroying agents can significantly reduce the risk of contracting the disease.
An estimated 59,000 people worldwide die from rabies annually. The vast majority of rabies deaths in Africa and Asia are caused by bites from infected dogs.
Children are at greater risk than adults – approximately 40 per cent of all human rabies deaths occur in children aged under 15 years old. Malawi is particularly affected and has one of the world’s highest incidences of recorded child rabies deaths.
Lessons in Malawi schools
Researchers surveyed 17 schools in Zomba City, the fourth largest city in Malawi, which has a population of 114,000. No previous rabies education or vaccination activities had taken place in the city prior to the study.
The study investigated the impact that a rabies lesson had on children’s knowledge and attitudes to rabies when it was taught in conjunction with a rabies vaccination campaign.
School lessons were delivered in the national language, Chichewa, by trained rabies education officers.
Knowledge about canine rabies and bite prevention was greater amongst school children who had received the lesson compared with those who had not received the lesson but had been exposed to a rabies vaccination campaign. Knowledge among the children remained high several weeks after the lesson.
Edinburgh researchers worked in partnership with Mission Rabies, an international NGO working to establish effective rabies control activities in Malawi.
Our study demonstrates that one short lesson, which has now been delivered to over 900 000 children in Malawi, can significantly improve knowledge on how to safely interact with dogs and how children can protect themselves from acquiring rabies infections.
We hope that this lesson, alongside our mass vaccination programme and disease surveillance activities will significantly reduce the number of deaths from rabies in humans and dogs. The partnership between the Mission Rabies charity and the University of Edinburgh is a powerful demonstration of the benefits of academics and NGOs working together to address important public health challenges.