NEW DELHI: A global report on rabies has found India accounts for more than one-third of all deaths due to dog bite worldwide. Worse, the report says, most victims die at home because hospitalization provides little palliative care and death is inevitable.
The multi-author study, by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control’s Partners for Rabies Prevention Group, also shows that annual economic losses because of the disease in India is over 2000 US dollars, mostly due to premature deaths, but also because of spending on human vaccines, lost income for victims of animal bites and other costs.
The report is the first study to consider the impact in terms of deaths and the economic costs of rabies across all countries. Even though the disease is preventable, the study says that around 59,000 people die every year of rabies transmitted by dogs globally.
“This ground-breaking study is an essential step towards improved control and eventual elimination of rabies,” Louis Nel, executive director of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) said in a statement. He added that an understanding of the actual burden will help determine and advocate for the resources needed to tackle this fatal disease.
The study finds that overwhelmingly the greatest risk of canine rabies is in the poorest countries; the death rate (deaths per 100,000 people) is highest in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, while India has the highest number of fatalities, with over 20,000 human deaths annually.
The proportion of dogs vaccinated is far below that necessary to control the disease across almost all countries of Africa and Asia.
“Rabies is close to 100% fatal, but it is also almost 100% preventable, and the best, most cost-effective way of preventing canine rabies is by vaccinating dogs. This needs to be supplemented by improving access to human vaccines,” said a senior doctor.
Rabies is caused by a virus that is transmitted to humans through the infected saliva of a range of animals. But most human deaths follow a bite by, or exposure to, an infected dog, states a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Expert say the rabies control program in India is aggravated due to the general lack of awareness of preventive measures, insufficient dog vaccination, an uncontrolled canine population, poor knowledge of proper post-exposure prophylaxis and an irregular supply of anti-rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin, particularly in primary-health-care facilities.
According to one study, only 70% of the people in India have ever heard of rabies, only 30% know to wash the wounds after animal bites and, of those who get bitten, only 60% receive a modern cell-culture-derived vaccine.