Mission Rabies, in an astonishing feat, has vaccinated over 60,000 Indian dogs against rabies, during the month of September, bringing this phase of their project to a celebratory close in Guwahati, on September 28, World Rabies Day.
Volunteers in many cities and from many countries
The launch phase of the three year project involved nearly 500 volunteers from 14 different countries around the world. The teams were led by Indian vets and NGO’s who conducted focused community street dog vaccination campaigns, determined to ensure a 70% coverage in each ward they covered. In Coimbatore, Erode, Madurai, Chennai, Nagpur, Trivandrum, Goa, Tirupati, Bhubaneshwar, Bikaner, Calcutta, Ranchi, Guwahati, and other cities, skilled dog catchers used nets to catch the dogs, as vets and paravets vaccinated, marked and recorded each dog on the spot, before releasing them immediately, unharmed and protected. The whole vaccination process took under a minute for each animal caught.
The amazing truck
Mission Rabies’ is supported by the worlds most advanced, all terrain mobile veterinary hospital. It is the only one of its kind in the world, generously donated by Dogs Trust, and is so big that it couldn’t drive on the streets of London. When Dr. Nanditha Krishna and Dr. Chinny Krishna visited London in 2012, they took a side trip out of the city by train to get a first view of the truck. In a recent interview, Dr. Chinny Krishna described it as “a superbly-built vehicle” with an x-ray room, a surgery room, and awnings to pull out over seating areas for trainings. On big screens, trainees can watch surgeries taking place inside the van. It has a unique training and teaching capacity to ensure sustainability in ABC work and population control in each of the targeted areas. How amazing!
How the project was carried out
Net-catching dogs requires a high level of skill and energy; done properly, it is one of the least stressful and most efficient ways to capture street dogs. Dogs are quiet in the nets and do not normally struggle, so there is no danger of injury to them. Dr. Krishna remarked that all the volunteers were remarkably dedicated. Nearly all the international volunteers had paid their own way, using their vacation time from work, to come to India, to be part of Mission Rabies. They applied themselves to the task at hand, taking no time off to sight-see, spending their first two weeks in one city, then traveling to a new location for the second two weeks.
50,000 rabies vaccinations were donated by Merck Sharp & Dohme to kick off the project. The program will continue for three years, with a goal of vaccinating two million Indian dogs, and future vaccines will be bought from this company, distributed through the India National Rabies Network and uploaded on an advanced epicollect database system, controlled through smartphones, which records the GPS location of each dog vaccinated as well as other key data about the animals, such as sex and age. The vaccine is of the highest quality, safe and effective, with a guarantee of being able to deliver the vaccine to where it is needed, while maintaining “cold chain” conditions – a requirement especially important in India’s tropical climate. The vaccinated dogs are protected from rabies for one year.
Spay/neuter to follow
As the project develops, it will include more training of Indian vets in spay/neuter (called “ABC,” or “animal birth control” in India), and increasingly will involve ABC, as well as vaccinations. Part of the focus of the initial vaccinating program is to establish the trust of people, who, understandably, are concerned when their dogs are picked up by strange looking fellows in orange shirts. People’s trust that the dogs will not be hurt and will be returned promptly to the same spot is essential for ABC programs to work effectively, with public cooperation. So the vaccination program will pave the way for an ABC component to follow.
The ABC program is not at all new to India. It was started in 1964, by Blue Cross of India, which has operated the world’s longest running ABC–anti-rabies program. Ongoing for over 50 years, this program has resulted in the city of Chennai being entirely free of rabies for several years in a row.
A national law in India, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, requires that municipalities operate and fund humane ABC programs, and the killing of dogs is illegal in India. Unfortunately, in a huge country like India, with a population of perhaps five million community dogs, over a billion people, scarce resources, and more than enough complicated problems, the situation can get out of hand, and the law is not always followed, not even by municipalities. The tropical climate, which fosters disease, does not help, and rabies is a real occurrence for both people and animals.
So Mission Rabies has stepped in with a gigantic initiative that is already changing the landscape for communities in India, protecting both dogs and people from rabies.
Vaccinating over 60,000 dogs in a month has never been done before. The target was 50,000, but when they hit the target, they just kept going. India is now leading the world in mass canine vaccination programmes.
At the closing celebration in Guwahati, the atmosphere was jubilant.
Among the speakers were John Gaye, the Vice President of Dogs Trust, the British organization that very generously provided most of the funding for Mission Rabies, and Luke Gamble, CEO of Mission Rabies, as well as the founder and head of Worldwide Veterinary Services, which spearheaded the project, and which has led innovative projects in many countries to dramatically improve the lives of the world’s community dogs.
Dr. Ilona Otter, the Veterinary Director of Mission Rabies, India, spoke as well, as did her husband, Nigel Otter, Director of IPAN and overseeing Mission Rabies India Operations. Dr. Chinny Krishna, Vice Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India and President of Mission Rabies, led the speaking and summarized the phenomenal achievements of the team.
How Mission Rabies came to be
Dr. Chinny Krishna explained, in our interview, the origins of the project. Luke Gamble started Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS) at the end of 2002. A very dynamic individual, in addition to his own veterinary practice in the U.K., where he lives with his wife and three children – he volunteers his time traveling to the far corners of the globe helping animals.
Three years ago, under the auspices of the Animal Welfare Board of India, WVS played a significant role in setting up the WVS International Training Center, in Ooty, where Nigel Otter, Director of IPAN, and Dr. Ilona Otter, head IPAN and WVS ITC veterinarian, had begun offering training courses to Indian vets, paravets (vet techs), managers, and animal handlers in ABC practices and procedures. In the last 18 months, the ITC, now under the patronage of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, has trained over 300 Indian vets in humane surgical sterilization procedures – a remarkable achievement in its own right.
Out of this ongoing effort grew the dramatic concept of undertaking a major push to end the scourge of rabies in India, which kills many humans, as well as many animals every year. About half of the human deaths are children.
43 partner organizations joined with WVS and Dogs Trust, in initiating this exciting project, mostly Indian and international animal welfare groups. The project has generated so much enthusiasm that more potential partners and volunteers are already gathering in the wings, waiting to sign up.
Mission Rabies is setting a new standard for what can be accomplished to end the threat of rabies for both people and community dogs.
To visit the website of Mission Rabies, click here.
To visit the website of Dogs Trust, click here.
To visit the website of Worldwide Veterinary Services, click here.
Photos: Courtesy of Worldwide Veterinary Services