MANILA (Reuters Life!) - A community-based scheme in the Philippines that vaccinates dogs against rabies and educates people on the virus has succeeded in eliminating human deaths from the disease and the campaign can easily and cheaply be expanded to other parts of the world, experts said.
Rabies kills more than 55,000 people a year, nearly all in Asia and Africa, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) -- a non-profit charitable organization -- said the most cost-effective strategy against it was to vaccinate dogs, the main hosts and transmitters of the virus.
GARC said the success of a pilot campaign in the Philippine island of Bohol, which over three years cuts rabies deaths to zero from 10 among the province's 1.2 million population, encouraged it to consider replicating it.
The program cost about 467,000 pounds ($747,000) over three years -- about 60 U.S. cents per person, the GARC said.
"Rabies is an entirely preventable disease but it still continues to be a significant cause of human and animal deaths in many parts of the world," the GARC said in a statement.
Rabies is a virus that is transmitted to humans in the saliva of infected animals, both domesticated and wild, via bites or scratches. Once symptoms are present, rabies is always nearly fatal, the World Health Organization says on its website.
The WHO put the average cost of treatment after an animal bite at $40 in Africa, where an estimated 24,000 rabies deaths occur each year, and $49 in Asia, where more than 30,000 deaths occur annually, including about 20,000 in India.
More than 250 people died from rabies in the Philippines last year, putting the country in the top 10 for rabies deaths.
Betsy Miranda, the Asian Coordinator for GARC, said the Bohol program's bottom-up approach helped build a self-sustaining model for rabies control.
The community learnt about the need for dogs to be registered and vaccinated, medical staff were trained in how to treat animal bites, children were taught on what to do if they are bitten, and residents were trained on how to identify and deal with to suspected rabies cases in animals and humans.
Reporting by John Mair, editing by Miral Fahmy