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Rabies-free Goa on the cards?

Stray dogs, rabies. Aliaksandr Mazurkevich
Stray dogs on the streets of New Delhi. Rabid dogs are contributing to the spread of rabies in India. By vaccinating dogs, Goa is hoping to achieve rabies-free status.

Officials are optimistic about the prospect of a rabies-free Goa, with hopes that the state could become the first in India to eradicate the disease in 2020. 

No rabies cases were reported in the state in 2018. The progress came on the heels of Mission Rabies, a statewide drive in place since 2014 which saw almost one lakh dogs given the anti-rabies vaccine yearly and an awareness campaign which educated 5.2 lakh schoolchildren and 23,000 teachers about the virus. This included 50,316 vaccinations administered and 78,437 students reached until August 31st this year alone. 

As such, rabies deaths in the state dropped from seventeen in 2014 to five in 2015 to one death each in 2016 and 2017 – to zero deaths in 2018. No cases of rabies transmitted from dogs to humans have been reported so far this year. 

With this progress in mind, a rabies-free Goa is decidedly on the cards according to Mission Rabies education director Dr Murugan Appupillai. “Goa is going to be the first state in India to go rabies-free,” he said. Having anticipated that humans would be rabies-free by 2020 and animals by 2023, Appupillai asserts that “we are however well ahead of the schedule. Dog-mediated human rabies has come down to zero from 2018 onwards, but rabies was still prevalent in animals until the beginning of 2019. However, there haven’t been any cases detected in the past six months.” 

“The volunteers are still working very hard to continue the vaccinations each year while a continuous watch is being kept to ensure there is no disease outbreak,” Appupillai added. “We are also conducting post-mortem of dogs found dead on the roadsides to check for the rabies virus.” 

Going forward, steps such as sterilisation of the state’s dog population will be taken, with a target of sterilising 50,000 of the state’s 1.5 lakh dogs each year. “Vaccinations alone cannot eradicate the rabies virus in Goa; breeding of dogs must be controlled as well,” said Santosh Desai, director of animal husbandry and veterinary services in the state. 

The news of a rabies-free Goa being on the horizon is undoubtedly welcome in a country where, in 2017, no person infected with rabies survived it despite it being entirely vaccine-preventable. Almost 21,000 lives are lost to rabies every year. The news of Goa nearing rabies-free status is encouraging, showing that progress against a disease is possible if a robust approach is undertaken.

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