The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Smart vaccine scheme curbs rabies quickly

A rabies vaccination programme supported by a smartphone app significantly improved uptake in affected cities.

Vet vaccinating a dog in an outdoor clinic in Malawi.
The team reached at least 70% of the dog population in every area in which they work to ensure herd immunity. Picture courtesy of Mission Rabies.

More people could be protected from rabies thanks to an approach to dog vaccination that uses smartphone technology to spot areas of low vaccine coverage in real time.

The approach helped vets to halve the time it takes to complete dog inoculation programmes in the Malawian city of Blantyre.

A custom-made app enabled workers to jab more dogs faster and with fewer staff compared with previous efforts, helping to tackle a disease that causes 60,000 human deaths worldwide each year, 40 per cent of which are in children.

Better access

Vets, led by the University of Edinburgh and the charity Mission Rabies, applied their approach using the app developed with the World Veterinary Service, which allows the team to record data on vaccinations by location, using GPS.

The team increased by 75% the number of drop-in vaccination centres within around 800 metres of owners’ homes – a distance that their research indicated most owners were willing to walk.

In areas where low uptake was detected, they quickly set up vaccine stations and engaged with local communities and media to raise awareness of the scheme.

Vets targeted 70 per cent of the city’s dog population – around 35,000 animals – and vaccinated them in 11 days, compared with 20 days using the previous approach. The scheme needed just over 900 days of staff time, as opposed to the usual more than 1700 days.

The approach could also benefit farmers whose livestock is at risk of infection from dogs, researchers say.

Delivering vaccinations to at-risk populations in a highly efficient manner is a major societal challenge. Attempts to eliminate rabies remain under-funded despite knowing that dog vaccination is a highly effective way to reduce the disease burden in both humans and dogs. We are pleased to see that the real-time interrogation of data has allowed us to improve the efficiency of vaccination clinics.

Dr Stella MazeriLead researcher, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

This research provides an important piece of the puzzle in powering forward strategies to eliminate canine transmitted rabies. Practically, this research steers how we better implement campaigns to efficiently vaccinate hundreds of thousands of dogs against rabies in challenging environments – and this is turn, prevents the deaths of thousands of children around the world each year. The amazing support of the University of Edinburgh in this field of research is genuinely saving lives.

Luke GambleCEO of Mission Rabies

Related links

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Oral dog vaccine could help beat rabies

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