Researchers use App in the fight against rabies

Thursday February 27 2020

A veterinary officer administers a rabies vaccine to a dog.

A veterinary officer administers a rabies vaccine to a dog. Researchers in Tanzania can now determine if a dog was vaccinated against rabies using a mobile phone camera image. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

VERAH OKEYO
By VERAH OKEYO
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Researchers in Tanzania can now determine if a dog was vaccinated against rabies using a mobile phone camera image.

This is after scientists from American Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, working with a technology company — PiP My Pet — developed a mobile application that uses facial recognition to reunite lost pets with their owners while tracking which dogs were vaccinated against rabies.

Rabies, a viral disease that is incurable once the symptoms start showing, kills about 1,500 people annually in Tanzania, according to the World Health Organisation.

The app is currently being rolled out as part of a vaccination trial in the Mara region of Tanzania. The trial, which will provide the first mass dog vaccination against rabies in the region, began this year and aims to test the efficacy of two delivery strategies: The first, uses teams of vaccinators in vehicles to visit each village in turn, whilst the second uses village-based vaccinators to deliver mass vaccination of dogs.

Felix Lankester, the director of WSU’s Rabies Free Tanzania Programme, said the alternative would have been to insert microchips to identify each vaccinated dog.

Each microchip costs about $1. This would have been financially burdensome considering the university’s rabies campaign vaccinated more than 275,000 dogs in 2019 in Kenya and Tanzania. The effort is now nearing two million vaccinations.

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Dr Lankester said: “It saves us time and money, both very important in our mission to eliminate human rabies in East Africa”

The most cost-effective way of eliminating rabies is through vaccination: it costs less than a dollar to vaccinate one dog.

During the mass vaccinations following the outbreaks in African wild dog population in the Serengeti in the 1990s, Dr Lankester said scientists discovered that if they vaccinated 70 per cent of the dog population, they would break the cycle of infection for the virus from one dog to another, and eventually to people.

The other way is to vaccinate every person that is bitten. A complete course of four doses costs $150-$280, a price prohibitive for cash-strapped health systems and the patients.