Southeast Asia’s rabies risk

2011-09-27 09:34

New Delhi – More than 1.4 billion people are at risk of rabies in South and Southeast Asia, a region that accounts for nearly half of global deaths from the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.

Children aged between 5 and 15 years were the most vulnerable, representing 40% of the people exposed to rabid dog bites.

The WHO called on governments to ensure access to modern rabies vaccine and control the disease at the source through mass dog vaccination campaigns.

“Rabies is a serious health problem in Southeast Asia and countries must develop and implement comprehensive national rabies control programmes,” WHO Southeast Asia regional director Samlee Plianbangchang said.

The organisation’s definition of Southeast Asia also includes countries in South Asia.

Rabies kills an estimated 24 000 people in the region yearly.

According to the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, the disease causes 70 000 deaths yearly, with India topping the list at about 20 000 per year.

“Rabies is a fatal disease but it can and must be prevented,” Plianbangchang said.

Dog bites are the primary source of human infection and account for 96% of the human rabies cases.

“A combination of large human and dog populations in congested habitable areas combined with widespread poverty has led to more deaths due to rabies in WHO’s South-East Asia region than in any other part of the world,” the WHO said.

It said Thailand and Sri Lanka had successfully lowered the number of rabies-related human deaths through dog vaccination campaigns, improved accessibility to human rabies vaccine and serum and an effective vaccine delivery system. 

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