Mobile phone app could help curb rabies threat in African cities

Children's Health

A mobile phone app is helping veterinarians to halve the time it takes to complete dog vaccination programmes in Malawi and could help curb rabies threat in African cities, a study shows.

The app known as World Veterinary Service Data Collection installed in mobile phones facilitates tracking of veterinary teams working remotely, collection of data and efficient coordination of vaccination teams in near real time.

Rabies transmitted by dogs kill almost 60,000 people each year globally, with most cases affecting Sub-Saharan Africa and India, according to another study. The WHO, World Organization for Animal Health and Food and Agriculture Organization have set the elimination of dog-mediated human rabies deaths by 2030.

Researchers using data collected through the appwere able to modify Malawi’s Blantyre City rabies dog vaccination campaign to achieve vaccination of over 70 per cent of all the dogs in the city in nearly half the time and staff resources compared with previous campaigns.

Achieving at least 70 per cent dog vaccination coverage annually is crucial for rabies control. But it is often impossible to achieve that without employing expensive and labor-intensive door-to-door vaccination approaches.”

Stella Mazeri, lead researcher and veterinary epidemiologist at the UK’s University of Edinburgh

The study, published in the February issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS), assessed methods of mass dog vaccination that affect urban vaccination campaigns required to eliminate rabies in poor-resource settings such as Malawi.

Most successful vaccination programmes with coverages greater than 70 per cent have been dependent on a combined static point and door-to-door vaccination approaches that are expensive and time consuming, researchers say.

Thus, Mission Rabies, a charity organization, collaborated with Blantyre Society for the Protection and Care of Animals and the University of Edinburgh to apply a data-driven approach using the smartphone app between 2015 and 2017 to record data on rabies vaccinations and access global positioning system locations.

Dagmar Mayer, Mission Rabies country manager in Malawi, says that they were able to increase the numbers of drop-in centers within around 800 meters of owners’ homes from 44 to 77.

The new campaign vaccinated more than 70 per cent of the more than 40,000 dogs in the city in 11 days compared with 20 days in a previous approach that did not use the app, the study says, adding that it also required 904 staff days instead of 1,719.

“Analyzing data collected for each dog seen at door-to-door showed that only few dog owners are willing to walk more than 1,500 meters to bring their dogs for their rabies vaccination,” she Mayer tells SciDev.Net.

Children under 15 are at the highest risk due to their close interaction with dogs, the species responsible for up to 99 per cent of rabies cases, according to the WHO.

“Annual mass dog rabies vaccination campaigns are therefore crucial in reducing the rabies burden in dogs and in turn reduce the risk of rabies in humans,” says Mazeri.

John Pirate Kothowa, a chief animal veterinary officer in Blantyre District, where the study was implemented, ellsSciDev.Net: “We are achieving a high number of dogs in half the time than in the previous campaigns. We believe this can be scaled up to national level”.

Kondwani Chiumia, chief laboratory technician at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says that the study provides data-based evidence for the veterinary and health sectors to curb rabies by helping to locate hotspots in communities.

“The health sector further needs to actively participate in rabies testing,” Chiumia explains.

Mazeri adds: “We believe this approach will be useful as a template for designing successful vaccination campaigns in other African cities, in a cost-effective manner, ultimately reducing the rabies treat to humans.”

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