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Featured Article - 2 April 2020

Mission impossible is achieved through persistence

The GAAP was the awardee in the Regional category (Americas) for the 2019 World Rabies Day Awards. View their profile and statement on receiving the award here

Receiving the 2019 World Rabies Day Award for the Americas is a great honor and a tremendous recognition for all the people who have collaborated with us on our rabies work so selflessly over the last decade. Thank you to all our supporters, and a special thanks to Dr. Sergio Recuenco for the nomination, as well as the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and MSD Animal Health for selecting us to receive the award. 

Retrospectively, for us at the Global Alliance for Animals and People (GAAP), working on rabies in vulnerable indigenous communities in Guatemala and Canada has been challenging because of a) the lack of physical access to remote communities, and b) the slow and steady process required to build trust within a community, without which, the community buy-in is virtually impossible. 

When we first started working in 2010 in the rural Mayan village of Todos Santos, Guatemala, the access road was treacherous. It took two hours to travel 40kms. Similarly, reaching the indigenous communities in northern Canada is only possible by road during the winter months or by plane during the snow-free months. These restrictions have meant additional logistical complications but have also acted as a motivating factor as we knew these areas have not received the necessary resources or support in the past to be able to advance in the fight against rabies.

In addition to the challenges associated with access, we have also worked through the difficult process of trust-building. For four years, when leaving, we would say “see you next year” to the people in Todos Santos but there was no response. The lack of response never struck us as being such a critical indication about the future of our work at the time. Finally, at the end of the fifth year when we said “see you next year”, they replied with a smile: “see you next year”. Trust had been built! It was the trust that we needed to take the project to the next level: looking for sustainability from within. 

Our goal in Guatemala has always been long-term, sustained change within the community but we really didn’t know how long it would take us to achieve this. We knew that it wouldn’t be possible if the only veterinary services available in the community were offered by us foreigners, once a year. As a result, in 2017, the GAAP developed a mobile telemedicine program where a local person was trained to become a community animal health care worker. This program is now a complete success with veterinary care available year-round. In 2018, 64 dogs were treated through the telemedicine program. In 2019, this number more than tripled to nearly 200 animals, and 133 of these included rabies vaccines. With our recent purchase of a motorcycle, our community animal health care worker will be able to perform visits in even more remote communities in 2020.  

To ensure long-lasting change, we have also implemented an educational component to our work in Guatemala. We have developed fun and culturally-relevant education materials and activities for adults and children to help them understand the issues their community faces, including the threat of rabies. Our hope is that knowledge is power, and by sharing the facts about responsible pet ownership and tips for bite prevention, we are empowering the community to protect their own health as well as the wellbeing of animals and their local environment.

With a view to the future and our fight against rabies, the GAAP is partnering with Veterinarians International and local government agencies to expand our help to Arequipa, Peru, where rabies was reintroduced through an outbreak that began in 2015. Additionally, the monetary prize received through the 2019 World Rabies Day Award will be used to create a new educational video/animation to show our audiences clear examples of how rabies can spread through a community while highlighting the very important and crucial role dog owners play by vaccinating their dogs to break the cycle. 

We would like to finish by saying that all this work toward the eradication of rabies in the Americas has not been possible without the amazing support of key partners like Veterinarians International, Dogs Trust Worldwide, Veterinarians without Borders-Canada,  Clínica  Veterinaria  Santa Rita, Allandale Veterinary Hospital, and Vetter Software, as well as the contributions of many other partners and individuals. Thank you all! We consider this your award as well.


Article contributed by Ms Ashley Grimes, Communications Manager of the GAAP.

The World Rabies Day Awards are brought to you by MSD Animal Health and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. The Awards recognise community rabies champions from across the world. Find out more about the Awards and the 2019 Awardees.