New rabies research lab opened at NIV-Pune, to help India eradicate deaths, Health Ministry says

By: |
September 29, 2021 6:47 PM

Inaugurated on World Rabies Day by Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Professor Balram Bhargava, the facility will augment the country-wide testing capacity.

rabies-virus-1200While fatal, rabies is a preventable viral disease. (File)

The National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has set up a state-of-the-art dedicated Rabies Research and Diagnostic Laboratory. Inaugurated on World Rabies Day (September 28) by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Professor Balram Bhargava, the facility will augment the country-wide testing capacity.

According to the Union Health Ministry, India has the highest rabies burden in the world with an estimated 20,000 deaths reported each year. The ministry said laboratory testing for rabies was crucial to come up with appropriate clinical diagnosis, infection control, and surveillance.

While fatal, rabies is a preventable viral disease. It can spread among humans and pets from rabid animal bites or scratches. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rabies can be prevented by vaccines.

The disease is present in over 150 countries and territories, the WHO said in a report, with dogs being the source of the majority of human deaths. Dogs contribute nearly 99% of all transmissions to humans, with low awareness regarding the need for health care after a dog bite behind most of the deaths. Rabies kills over 55,000 people every year, mostly in Africa and Asia, the WHO said.

According to the WHO report, rabies is endemic to India, with the country accounting for 36% of global deaths. However, India’s true rabies burden is not fully known. The WHO said around 30-60% of India’s reported rabies cases and deaths occurred in children below 15 years. The high death rate, according to WHO, was that dog bites in children often went unreported and unrecognised.

According to WHO, vaccinating dogs is the most cost-effective method to prevent rabies transmission in humans. It has set a target 2030 to end global human rabies deaths. With India’s high death rate, the success of the target will depend on how the country proceeds.

The Union Health Ministry, however, believes the new initiative at NIV, Pune, would help India achieve the global target.

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