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Featured Article - 6 September 2021

Special Partnerships to overcome difficulties and save lives

One of the reasons lives are still lost to rabies is the fact that those working on the ground to prevent it face all kinds of daily challenges, from limited resources to restrictions in access to healthcare facilities. People who dedicate their work and free time to battling against rabies often remain unnamed and invisible to the rest of the world, and their daily struggles and accomplishments largely unknown or uncelebrated. Dr. Kenneth Chawinga is one of these people whose story deserves to be shared with the world! Enjoy the first-hand account of the life of a veterinary officer in Zambia!

I work as a Veterinary Officer under the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, Department of Veterinary Services, Zambia. My work encompasses collecting data about livestock diseases and sharing it with the higher authorities for data driven decisions and action. Rabies-specific work entails the dissemination of information to the community to prevent rabies, always in accordance with the Control of Dogs Act Cap 247 of Zambian law. The main goal is an overall reduction in dog bite cases.

The likelihood of a positive diagnosis of rabies, following a bite from an animal which then dies, is extremely high; up to 90%. In the first quarter of 2018, the local health office dispensed 68 doses of human rabies prophylactic vaccine to dog bite victims. The number of doses increased to 75 in the same period for 2019. Due to the high numbers of cases overwhelming our local health office, only the first 2 doses were issued per patient to accommodate as many people as possible and alleviate the burden of the costs of post-exposure prophylaxis as much as possible. Exceptions were made in special cases (where it was proven beyond doubt that the victims could not manage to buy the remaining 3 doses) and the district health and veterinary offices felt the entire course should be offered.

I take every opportunity to raise as much public awareness about rabies prevention in dogs and cats as possible. Currently, I am doing so through three community radio stations in the two districts under my jurisdiction, engaging communities through live phone-in and pre-recorded radio programs.

Kenneth Chawinga doing rabies awareness on radio
Dr Kenneth Chawinga (Left) at Power FM Radio, a community radio station, raising rabies awareness with Dr. Alisheke Mutemwa (right), a now retired veterinary officer

Through my job, I have always been involved in working against rabies. However, my inspiration to fight the disease took a new turn when in late 2018, I got a nasty dog bite report involving a little girl just 5 years old. She had deep open wounds from bites on her little face. This girl was in the remote part of one of my district's. Fortunately, the District Health Office provided the required 5 doses of PEP vaccine and anti-tetanus jab. In another much more recent incident that I had to request special assistance for - which fortunately came through - was when 5 people from different families were bitten by the same dog within a radius of 1km in a single day. My team and I were extremely busy over those few days, but the reward of saving lives helped to keep us motivated.

I get some relief knowing that the work my team and I are championing is yielding positive results. From receiving an average of 24 dog bites cases in a week, we have managed to reduce that number down to only 5 cases in a week! That is an amazing achievement!

This work would not have been as easy or perhaps as effective as it is without the education resource materials from GARC. Although I am a qualified veterinary surgeon, I have also greatly benefited from GARC’s Education Platform - it is a great source of Continuous Professional Development.

Standing besides my ISUZU vehicle branded by Action Auto Ltd, Zambia (the sponsors of the recent vaccination campaign) are kids who brought their dogs named (Sugar and Zusie, from Left to Right) for the free rabies vaccination at Zambia Railways Residential Compound in Kabwe District, Central Zambia, where I'm the District Veterinary Officer.

Of course, this work could not have materialized had it not been for willing partners. In this respect, I extend my heartfelt gratitude on behalf of myself, my team and the community of Kabwe District, to all who helped and especially to Action Auto Ltd, Zambia and the official dealership of ISUZU MOTORS in Zambia. In our recent mass vaccination campaign, the company donated a total of 2,000 doses of anti-rabies vaccine and associated consumables that included fuel and snacks for vaccinators. This resulted in the vaccination of 1,970 dogs, 90% of which did not have any rabies vaccination history. As a result of us presenting the activity report to the Managing Director of the company, Action Auto Ltd Zambia committed to continue their support of the vaccination campaign by providing rabies vaccines for dogs and covering operational logistics. Additionally, three local community-based radio stations support us, so on behalf of the Veterinary Services Department of Kabwe District, I am thrilled and inspired by all the support to continue our lifesaving work.

The most motivating aspect though for all of us, has been the reduction of dog bite cases across the districts. This can only be explained in one way: our work is yielding the desired results as we get closer to one goal; to #EndRabiesNow and ensure #ZeroBy30.

Article contributed by: Dr Kenneth Chawinga, Veterinary Officer, Kabwe District, Zambia.