BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU
ARUA: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2021
When Morish Ofuti, a resident of Ombavu village in Arua district heard that the International Rabies Day was going to be marked at Vurra sub-county headquarters and that domestic pets were going to be vaccinated, his thoughts went all on Oscar, his beloved cat.
“I saw an opportunity to vaccinate my cat and also castrate it so that it does not go out to look for female cats and risk getting Rabies,” he said.
At about 11:00am Ofuti arrived at the venue carrying the checkered cat in a yellow sack and was delighted, six minutes later, when veterinary doctors inoculated and castrated Oscar.
This was Ofuti’s first time to take a domestic pet for vaccination and he wished that everyone who owns pets take them for vaccination too.
Just like Oscar was the only cat inoculated with rabies vaccine during the Tuesday commemoration alongside myriads of dogs, veterinary doctors say that pets like cats account for one percent of rabies cases while dogs cover the remaining 99 percent of transmissions to humans.
In Arua City, Arua district and Terego district that are estimated to have a total of 11,700 dogs of which 2,832 are said to be stray dogs, 491 cases of animal bites were registered in 2020 according to Dr Willy Nguma, the district veterinary officer for Arua district who oversees anti-rabies activities in these areas.
He aggregated that 182 of people bitten were men, 149 were women and 160 were children 14 years and below.
He said the districts and city registered nine deaths from rabies last year but in nine months in 2021, Arua district, Terego district and Arua city registered six deaths and 227 cases of animal bites of which 135 victims were males, 48 females and 89 primary school children.
“The worst month was August when one rabid dog bit 15 people before it was killed and a total of 187 cases were reported in the month alone. This means rabies is endemic in this region and we are in a terrible situation,” he said.
Dr Ngguma reported that three children died in Logiri sub-county due to rabies, whose symptoms coming after the wounds from the dog bite had healed, was mistaken for witchcraft by parents.
He called on partners like UNICEF which deals with promotion of children’s rights to support the districts in West Nile to fight rabies, reasoning that 75% of the victims of animal bites are defenceless children.
He was flanked by Dr Neckyon Matinda, the veterinary officer for Yumbe district who said West Nile has 93,277 dogs, most of them owned by people who do not have capacity to look after dogs.
He said many communities keep dogs for hunting wild animals for delicious meat and for guarding against thieves but they do not realise that when left to stray, the dogs come into contact with wild animals like foxes, jackals and wild dogs which are reservoirs of rabies.
Dr Matinda explained that when the dogs contract rabies, they pose health threat to humans and domestic animals, especially goats thereby posing both economic and health threats.
He said it is for this reason that the global alliance to eliminate rabies came up with the theme “rabies: spread facts not fear.”
It is also for the same reason that ministry of health (MOH) and ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries (MAAIF) have joined hands to jointly fight rabies under an approach dubbed “one health”
The aim is to eliminate rabies in Uganda by 2030 through a five pillar approach.
These are intensive community sensitisation, continuous vaccination of 75 percent of pets annually for five years, dog management awareness targeting owners, and investment in laboratory management.
At local level, the officials recommended enactment of district ordinances and sub-county by-laws to punish non-compliant dog owners, a proposal that Arua district chairman, Alfred Okuonzi, said council will implement.
They also called for allocation of more animal and human vaccines by MAAIF to West Nile to fight zoonotic diseases.
Dr John Opolot, the assistant commissioner for veterinary public health and zoonosis in the ministry of health, acknowledged that people easily mistake rabies for witchcraft because the symptoms are terrible.
“When you get rabbis and you are not treated, you die 100%. You begin barking like a dog, drip saliva uncontrollably, develop aggressive behavior, hear strange sounds or see strange things that don’t actually exist. You experience head ache, body paralysis, loss of appetite and develop phobia for water,” he said.
With a single dose of anti-rabies serum costing about sh64,000 and a person requiring three to four doses to clear an infection in addition to costs of transport and incidiaries, Dr Opolot said it is best to tackle the threat of rabies by vaccinating the dogs and domestic animals.
Indeed Rose Okurut, the commissioner for Animal health in the MAAIF acknowledged in a written speech delivered by Dr Emmanuel Isingoma that it is ten times cheaper to fight rabies by vaccinating animals than through treatment of infected persons.
She elaborated that to vaccinate a dog costs about sh5,000 but to treat rabies in a human can cost up to sh500,000.
“The best way to fight and eliminate rabies is therefore through awareness creation and post exposure prophylaxis. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water to reduce the saliva of the dog and therefore reduce chances of getting infected,” advised Okurut.
She added: “Avoid going to the local council and leaving the bite wound for hours or days to keep evidence to win the case. This is a bad practice that exposes you to infection.”
The commissioner also tackled some of the myths associated with rabies such as the common mistaking of rabies for witchcraft, and warned the people to stop going to witchdoctors when they develop strange feelings after dog bites.
She pledged the commitment of the ministry to strengthen laboratories at the districts, supply vaccines and test reagents to improve data collection and diagnostic capacity for rabies management.