Myanmar: Sharing the message on rabies to save lives

Myanmar 2016 to 2018

‘Rabies kills’. Daw Kyi, a 68-year-old farmer, grew up hearing this statement and stories about regular human and dog rabies cases in her small rural village in the Lewei township of Myanmar. As many other inhabitants of her village and neighbouring ones, she knew that the deadly disease could easily be transmitted from dogs to humans but had very little knowledge on what to do to prevent it.

In 2016, the situation changed. The Myanmar Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD), with the support of the OIE, initiated a pilot project in Lewei to demonstrate that rabies can be eliminated by vaccinating dogs, the primary source of human cases. House-to-house free dog vaccinations were developed, reaching 100,000 animals at this initial step. However, the pilot was not limited to the vaccination campaigns: aware of the importance of education to prevent rabies, the LBVD developed public awareness activities for a better understanding of the disease and its prevention. It was the first time in their lives that Daw Kyi and her neighbours participated in rabies talks and received communication tools on the importance of vaccinating dogs and treating bite wounds to protect themselves from this 99.9% fatal disease.

The pilot project, part of the Rabies National Control Programme, was repeated in 2017 and 2018, and extended to other townships. The OIE provided technical and financial resources to Myanmar to conduct these activities: 450,000 doses of dog rabies vaccines were delivered through the OIE Vaccine Bank and vaccinators were trained on good practices before the campaigns.

Thanks to the pilot activities implemented, no animal rabies cases were reported in Lewei from 2016 to 2018. Moreover, the impact goes further: the number of dog-bite patients that receive post exposure prophylaxis at hospitals has increased, as Daw Kyi and her neighbours are now aware about dog bite management. No human dog rabies case has been reported in their village since the beginning of the dog vaccination campaign: new generations can now grow up in a different reality than those of their elders.

The pilot project developed in Lewei shows that it is possible to control rabies by sharing the message on how we can prevent the disease and implementing the needed measures. However, an average of 200 human rabies cases per year have still been confirmed in Myanmar over the five past years. As next steps, Myanmar plans to expand the awareness activities to other risk areas as part of their National Plan for Rabies Elimination (2018 to 2030), to ensure that everyone in the country grows up knowing how to prevent rabies.