Progress towards eliminating canine rabies: policies and perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean

Marco Antonio Natal Vigilato, Alfonso Clavijo, Terezinha Knobl, Hugo Marcelo Tamayo Silva, Ottorino Cosivi, Maria Cristina Schneider, Luis Fernando Leanes, Albino José Belotto, Marcos Antonio Espinal


Human rabies transmitted by dogs is considered a neglected disease that can be eliminated in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) by 2015. The aim of this paper is to discuss canine rabies policies and projections for LAC regarding current strategies for achieving this target and to critically review the political, economic and geographical factors related to the successful elimination of this deadly disease in the context of the difficulties and challenges of the region. The strong political and technical commitment to control rabies in LAC in the 1980s, started with the regional programme coordinated by the Pan American Health Organization. National and subnational programmes involve a range of strategies including mass canine vaccination with more than 51 million doses of canine vaccine produced annually, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, improvements in disease diagnosis and intensive surveillance. Rabies incidence in LAC has dramatically declined over the last few decades, with laboratory confirmed dog rabies cases decreasing from approximately 25 000 in 1980 to less than 300 in 2010. Dog-transmitted human rabies cases also decreased from 350 to less than 10 during the same period. Several countries have been declared free of human cases of dog-transmitted rabies, and from the 35 countries in the Americas, there is now only notification of human rabies transmitted by dogs in seven countries (Bolivia, Peru, Honduras, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and some states in north and northeast Brazil). Here, we emphasize the importance of the political commitment in the final progression towards disease elimination. The availability of strategies for rabies control, the experience of most countries in the region and the historical ties of solidarity between countries with the support of the scientific community are evidence to affirm that the elimination of dog-transmitted rabies can be achieved in the short term. The final efforts to confront the remaining obstacles, like achieving and sustaining high vaccination coverage in communities that are most impoverished or in remote locations, are faced by countries that struggle to allocate sufficient financial and human resources for rabies control. Continent-wide cooperation is therefore required in the final efforts to secure the free status of remaining countries in the Americas, which is key to the regional elimination of human rabies transmitted by dogs.

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