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Monday, 10 February, 2003, 01:20 GMT
Money 'would eradicate rabies'
Stray dogs are most likely to carry rabies
Rabies could be virtually eradicated if money was made available to fight the disease, say experts.

An estimated 50,000 people die each year after being bitten by an animal - in most cases dogs - infected with the disease.

While it can be cured, few countries in the developing world - where most infections occur - can afford the life-saving drugs.

We essentially have all the tools we need to control rabies

Dr Sarah Cleaveland
University of Edinburgh
Rabies can also be prevented in the first instance by vaccinating dogs but again many countries cannot afford the vaccine.

Dr Sarah Cleaveland, a lecturer at the Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine at Edinburgh University, is a strong supporter of mass vaccination programmes for dogs.

Cheap option

She says such a policy is cost-effective and can help to save thousands of lives.

Canine vaccines are very cheap in comparison with the drugs needed to treat humans infected with rabies.

Dr Cleaveland believes the disease can be brought under control if governments and international agencies make money available to fund vaccination programmes.

"We essentially have all the tools we need to control rabies," she told the BBC.

"There is really nothing stopping us except the political will and the financial support to do it."

She suggested that spending money on tackling rabies would have a tremendous health impact.

"There are many organisations who are investing in support of healthcare - primary care, childhood vaccination programmes, Aids programmes, Malaria programmes - they all have quite substantial support. Rabies has none of that at the moment.

"In terms of its impact on human disease and the whole psychological burden it places on a community, I think it definitely deserves some support."

She added: "One of the great advantages about rabies is we can really show an effect.

"The benefits we're gaining through the reduced costs of human treatment are quite substantial and may offset the cost of vaccinating dogs.

"It doesn't require major social changes, behavioural changes or long-term vaccine development programmes.

"I feel quite strongly that we can make a difference and we can do it now."

This story is featured in the radio programme Health Matters on the BBC World Service.

Click here for listening times

See also:

06 Jul 00 | South Asia
07 Mar 00 | Health
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
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