Namibia is among the many countries in Africa where rabies is endemic. Dog mediated rabies in particular poses a significant public health threat, with the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs) being particularly affected. The Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) has been supporting various rabies control projects in Namibia for several years. More than 1,000 oral vaccine baits used, as well as the size of the area, make this field trial for oral immunization of dogs against rabies unique in Africa. "We are at the forefront of field research here to bring this novel vaccination concept to use in Africa and elsewhere. We are confident that this method can make an important contribution to the global goal of eliminating dog-mediated human rabies by 2030," says OIE Laboratory Director and FLI National Reference Laboratory for Rabies Dr. Thomas Müller.
„We cannot allow that especially children are dying of this dreadful but preventable disease“ stresses Dr. Albertina Shilongo, Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) at the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS), Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform (MAWLR). Therefore, since 2016 Namibia has implemented a National Dog Rabies Control Programme with the support of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), funded by the German Government. „We are especially proud that our program was officially approved by the OIE, one of only two endorsed rabies control programs in the world so far“ adds Dr. Albertina Shilongo. After a successful pilot phase in the Oshana region, mass dog vaccinations had been rolled out to the entire NCAs. „Of several challenges, among others, the vast area to be covered and the inaccessibility of some dogs prevented from reaching a herd immunity in the dog population that would stop the spread of the virus“ says Dr. Kenneth Shoombe, Chief Veterinarian, Northwest Subdevision, Animal Disease Control at MAWLR, Oshakati.
One new tool could be oral rabies vaccination (ORV), a method that has been successfully used in Europe and North America to control wildlife mediated rabies, and is promoted both by WHO and OIE. Studies in Namibian dogs already demonstrated that they can be successfully immunized with a single vaccine bait. As a result, DVS conducted a pilot field trial in the Oshana and Omusati regions of Northern Namibia in cooperation with the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Germany, through funds from the Global Health Protection Programme of the German Ministry of Health. The DVS staff from Oshana and Omusati were supported by members and students of the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Namibia, Ogongo campus.
„The outcome of this trial is overwhelming. I was surprised to see how easy it is to vaccinate dogs that can hardly be vaccinated with a syringe. Also, the acceptance of this method by the people was very good “ states Dr. Nehemia Hedimbi, state veterinary officer and coordinator of Namibia‘s rabies control programme. Using mobile planning and data capturing technology, kindly provided by Mission Rabies, a non-governmental organization specialized in large scale rabies control, preliminary results are already available and show a very high acceptance of more than 90% in dogs. With these results DVS is envisaging to further integrate ORV into the rabies control programme of Namibia.