Goa reports zero deaths in 2018, now targets rabies-free 2020

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New Delhi | January 30, 2019 3:29 PM

The authorities educated 5.2 lakh children and 23,000 school teachers on the Rabies virus in the last four years and also vaccinated nearly 1 lakh dogs every year and getting 106 positive samples between 2017 and 2018.


Vigilant citizens can keep a check on various issues and two children under the age of ten proved just that. Eknath Ajgaonkar, 9, from Guirim and seven-year-old Palin Pagi from Canacona in Goa compelled their parents to call a hotline as they thought that rabies-infected dogs were running loose in their village. Authorities captured two dogs and took their samples which tested positive.

Eknath and Palin are not experts in the matter, however, they appear in a government-backed mass campaign against human deaths attributed to rabies.

A dog infected with rabies could bite up to 60 times in its lifetime. Mission Rabies finds the vigilante phone calls as a matter of their success story, Indian Express quoted Gowri Yale as saying. Yale is a scientific manager of Mission Rabies, which is a global umbrella campaign.

The authorities educated 5.2 lakh children and 23,000 school teachers on the Rabies virus in the last four years and also vaccinated nearly 1 lakh dogs every year and getting 106 positive samples between 2017 and 2018. It must be noted that Goa happens to be the first state to not report a single human death due to rabies in 2018. And now Goa is on the path to declare itself as a rabies-free state by 2020.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar was the first one to congratulate and tweet this effort and it is noteworthy that requests are coming from health departments in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana. In addition, Goa’s studies are in the early stages of implementation in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Sri Lanka, Indian Express reported.

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The government is now “fully committed” to this exercise, said Dr Vilas Naik, Assistant Director, Directorate of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services, Goa.

The government has released Rs 1.65 crore, since 2015, towards the entire programme, he added.

Naik told that a new post-mortem room and quarantine kennels have been dedicated for this exercise on the veterinary campus. In 2019, the experts are trying to expand the number of dogs which are sterilised and making vaccination an annual exercise.

And this is how this plan came to be

The Goa model aims for complete elimination of the virus, by expanding the cover of the anti-virus vaccination and sterilization of dogs, which is different from the WHO model of using human vaccines as a post-bite measure.

In 2012, Dr Luke Gamble, a UK-based veterinarian at Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) with charity organisation, identified India as a hotspot for rabies deaths.

Deaths due to Rabies were estimated at 20,000 across India, Dr Murugan Appupillai, Director of Education of India’s Mission Rabies, said.

Following this, 14 states were chosen in 2015 with Goa being chosen as a pilot state.

Goa was an obvious choice because it has an international and domestic tourist footfall, and with its waters preventing easy migration of dogs, Appupillai told Indian Express.

The visit of international Mission Rabies volunteers in Goa in 2014 made the state curious.

“We soon got call from the Chief Minister’s office. ‘What is going on here?’ he asked,” remembers Appupillai.

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As the government came on board, with dog population pegged at 30,000, the dog vaccination vans were dispatched and the officials came with the real estimate – 1.3 lakh stray with 31,000 confined. In addition, tourist areas across Candolim-Calangute were the major hotspots, especially near the tourist shacks, whereas villages near a proposed IT park in north Goa along with the port town of Mormugao which reported most cases of infected dogs increasing due to garbage.

Julie Corfmat who is the project manager for the Goa chapter of Mission Rabies, says that now the south and north districts have been divided into panchayats and then into more zones, with a vet travelling in a van along with four dog handlers, along with the one to count the dogs, journing all across the state. In addition, the demographics have now been made more specific with an App tracking details including age, sex, dogs with young pups, stray or pet and then further to free dogs which are owned as well.

Mission Rabies reports show 51,294 dog vaccinations in 2016, 96,033 in 2017, and more than 97,000 in 2018. In 2017, 78 tested positive out of the 163 cases and dogs were euthanized, while 15 were released. In last year, 28 dogs out of the 82 suspected calls tested positive for the virus.

Authorities say that villages engaged better with the dogs, whereas urban centres witnessed more dog population, which was attributed to garbage. Figures also revealed that 42 percent of positive tests belong to the confined dogs.

The campaign now also has an alternate team — two-member hand-catcher teams which go with dog food (biscuits) and vaccinate 100 dogs on an average daily. Their innovative baits include the Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) which is covered coatings of eggs and coconut.

The campaign will also cover panchayats to decrease garbage and hold special classes for postmen, garbage collectors and those with field jobs that have many hours of walking. This year, the aim is on “intense surveillance”.

Earlier, test results took days to return from India’s only WHO referral facility at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru, however, the state has made arrangements for testing Goa samples in real time now.

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