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Featured Article - 29 February 2024

HALO’s promising battle against rabies in the rural communities around Hoedspruit, South Africa

HALO (Hoedspruit Animal Outreach) was founded in 2016 and started by serving the rural community of Manoutsa, a small settlement on the mighty Olifants River in Limpopo, South Africa. The local chief requested our help for dogs in the community as they lacked access to veterinary facilities. 

Over the last eight years, HALO has grown to serve 12 underprivileged communities around Hoedspruit, 4 of which are served by our monthly stationary outreach. Owners bring their dog to the HALO outreach where volunteers do a free full health check, vaccinate it, and treat it against external and internal parasites. In 2023, we administered 2,626 rabies vaccines and 3,359 ‘5-in-1’ vaccines, saving dogs from life-threatening viruses that are present in those communities. 

Rabies is a serious concern in the areas that HALO serves. These underprivileged communities are surrounded by private and national nature reserves with the ‘Big 5’ (Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant and Rhinoceros) roaming freely. In 2015, Hoedspruit lost an entire pack of critically endangered African Wild Dogs (also known as Painted Dogs) and many jackals to rabies. HALO’s work not only saves the lives of people and dogs, but the wildlife in the area too, highlighting the true One Health nature of our work. 

Since its inception, HALO has encountered multiple rabies cases in dogs every year. This posed a real risk for the people in the communities as most clinics are not only a very far walk (most people don’t own cars), these clinics usually also don’t have rabies vaccines in stock. Therefore, we aimed to help prevent rabies rather than relying on these underserved clinics to treat bite victims with post-exposure prophylaxis. For this reason, education on the risks of rabies has always been an important pillar for HALO. 

In 2022, HALO had to deal with no less than 15 rabies cases in dogs and 1 child dying from rabies. We were asked for assistance by the government who had no capacity to organize emergency rabies vaccinations. HALO decided to step up and ramp up our rabies vaccination program, through our own fundraising efforts without financial support from the government. We conducted multiple door-to-door rabies vaccination campaigns in the at-risk areas. 

And our hard work paid off! 2023 was HALO’s first year of working in the rural communities with not a single case of rabies, a true and promising milestone.  

The rabies vaccination program will remain a key pillar of HALO’s work. With many new puppies every year, the extensive movement of dogs around communities and potential encounters with wildlife, the risk of rabies remains imminent. Next to these risks, HALO also keeps getting requests for help from other communities which are mostly areas with unvaccinated dogs.

HALO will continue to work hard to help eliminate rabies and uplift the lives of dogs in the rural communities around Hoedspruit, South Africa. 


Editor’s note: 

HALO is a recognized Rabies Center of Excellence in South Africa under the Communities Against Rabies initiative. They provide high-quality rabies elimination interventions and are a leading example of a stakeholder working towards rabies elimination.