Eradicating rabies

Indian children with cats and dogs in India. Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day. In 2012 the non-profit Compassionately Helping All Life, co-founded by Indian American Radha Savaram, hopes to eradicate rabies in India and eventually in the rest of South Asia. (photo provided)

In India, around 15 people a day, more than half of them children, suffer an excruciating death from rabies. More people die from the disease in India than anywhere else in the world.

Most rabies deaths in children occur when they come in contact with infected dogs.

Rabies is the most lethal disease known, according to the World Health Organization. The virus enters the body at the time of a bite. Once in, it travels up nerves to the brain. It takes about two weeks – sometimes a few months – for the virus to cause excessive salivation, convulsions, impaired movement and sensitivity to light and sound.

The victim also suffers from intense thirst, but is revolted by the sight of water – hence the widely used name for the disease, hydrophobia.

Once symptoms start, the disease is almost 100 percent fatal. But it can be prevented even if a person is infected with the virus. A series of shots, given before symptoms appear, can stop the virus dead in its tracks. India possibly tops the list of the 120 countries where the disease widely flourishes.

Sept. 28 is World Rabies Day, an international awareness campaign coordinated in 2007 by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, which is headquartered in the U.S. It is the death anniversary of Luis Pasteur, who developed the first successful rabies vaccine.

This year, Chandigarh will host a national conference on the prevention of rabies and street dog management. One of the speakers is Dr. S. Chinny Krishna, co-founder of the Blue Cross of India, the Chennai-based animal welfare organization that began the Animal Birth Control-Anti-rabies Vaccination program in the nation some 55 years ago, and acknowledged to be one of the most successful in the world.

Even though the disease is fatal, it is almost 100 percent preventable.

How is the ABC-AR program carried out? Stray dogs are rounded up, taken to local animal rescue shelters or hospitals and spayed or neutered. They are then vaccinated against rabies and released into the very neighborhood from where they were picked up. A tiny ear notch helps identify a sterilized dog. It costs as little as $14 to catch, sterilize and vaccinate a street dog.

It has been found that by reducing the capacity of street dogs to overpopulate, the overall likelihood of negative encounters between humans and stray dogs is reduced. The World Health Organization has stated that by immunizing 70 percent of all dogs, rabies in humans could be effectively eradicated.

The WHO has announced a campaign to reduce human deaths from dog-transmitted rabies across the globe to zero by 2030.

 

As the ABC-AR program is being embraced by more and more animal welfare organizations in India, fewer municipalities are engaging in the horrific wholesale slaughter of dogs by the catch-and-kill procedure that was practiced for decades. But some local administrations still engage in that. In 2016, for example, a panchayat board in Tiruvantapuram took a decision to encourage vigilantes to cull dogs on the street following attacks on domestic animals and children. After an uproar by animal rights activists, the Supreme Court intervened and ended that.

“As the dogs cease to be perceived as a health threat, there will be little or no need for local governments to engage in such barbarism,” noted Dr. Krishna of the Blue Cross of India.

Thanks to the unrelenting ABC-AR programs, rabies deaths among humans have been virtually eliminated in both Chennai and Goa.

To help animal welfare organizations in India strengthen their ABC-AR program, in 2012 three animal lovers in California established a non-profit, CHAL USA (www.chalusa.org). CHAL is an acronym for Compassionately Helping All Life. It’s also a Hindi word that suggests action. CHAL’s mission is to eradicate rabies in India and eventually in the rest of South Asia.

In the last four years, thanks to individual donors, CHAL has been able to send about $20,000 each year to animal welfare organizations in Hyderabad, Kerala, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Rajasthan.

“We are hoping that NRIs will help our cause and look upon the ABC-AR program as not only protecting the health of India’s street dogs but of its human population as well,” said CHAL Indian American co-founder Radha Savaram.

Donations to CHAL, which are tax-deductible, can be made by check and mailed to:

CHAL USA, P.O. Box 1124, El Cerrito, CA. 94530 or via PayPal.

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