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Featured Article - 11 February 2020

Working to remove the fear of rabies from Kabul, Afghanistan

Dr. Abdul-Jalil Mohammadzai was the awardee in the Global category (individual) for the 2019 World Rabies Day Awards. View his profile and statement on receiving the award here.

Dr Mohammadzai was thrilled to be awarded the World Rabies Day Award in November 2019.  The recognition and acknowledgement of the work being carried out to make Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, a rabies free city, is really a testament to the hard work and dedication of Dr Mo and his team as well as a great morale booster. 

Mayhew Afghanistan is a registered NGO in Afghanistan and a branch of animal welfare charity Mayhew, UK.  Following 2 years of research and the first ever dog population survey in Kabul in 2015, the three year mass rabies vaccination strategy was designed and implemented in the city in August 2017, with the programme now in parallel with a comprehensive TVNR (trap, vaccination, neuter and release) programme started in July 2019 with the inauguration of the first ever Animal Birth Control centre in Kabul.  

Rabies and fear of rabies has been a part of Afghan life for many years with tens of human deaths recorded in the capital, tens of thousands of dogs culled every year in the most inhumane way and a lack of coordination to address the problem from the various authorities tasked with dealing with the issue. Moreover, access to human rabies vaccinations and PEP treatments is extremely limited and far too expensive for the average Afghan. 

At the end of 2016, Dr Mohammadzai convinced the Kabul authorities to stop culling by strychnine poisoning and implement, instead, a mass vaccination programme which would also provide data for the neutering programme.  Under Dr Mo’s direction Mayhew Afghanistan’s team comprises all local Afghans and re-trained municipality dog-catchers – no longer dog-killers but humane dog catchers and ambassadors for the programme.

The catching and vaccinating team are out 6 days a week early morning and work systematically from street to street, netting the dogs, vaccinating them and identifying them with a splodge of non-toxic paint before release. Within 48 hours the surveyors follow up and count the number of painted and vaccinated dogs in the area, calculating whether the minimum 70% of the dog population in any one district has been reached.

In April 2019, Mayhew Afghanistan employed a Community Engagement Officer now working with local district elders keeping them informed about rabies, dog-bite prevention as well as listening to their concerns about the free-roaming dogs in their areas. In 2017 there were 3 recorded human deaths from rabies and 1789 recorded dog bites in Kabul, but in 2018 and 2019 to date there have been no recorded human deaths to date, an indication that the programme is working.

For 2020 the team in Kabul are hoping for a 3rd year without human deaths from rabies and also a year without canine rabies cases. The programme will then change to a maintenance programme with the plan for the government to take over, under Mayhew’s supervision.

All of the above would not have been possible without the support of Kabul Municipality, the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Dogs Trust Worldwide and the enthusiasm and dedication of Mayhew’s team in Kabul including:

Dr Sulaiman Safi – project team leader & vet vaccinator

Dr Abdul Basit Karimi, Dr Mohammad Ishmael & Dr Saifullah – vet vaccinators 

Dr Jawid Mohammadi & Dr Elham - vet surveyors

Dr Moattar Nasiri – community engagement officer

Ghulam Abobakar & Moqadas Shahaak – drivers 

And our wonderful cohort of Municipality dog–catchers and Afghan volunteers.

Leaving you with a quote from Dr Sulaiman Safi:

“Working with Mayhew has given me the chance to change my passion into my profession. I am an avid animal lover and it is my goal to make a difference in animal and community well-being by vaccinating dogs against rabies and also educating local people that dogs are not their enemy; rather it is the rabies virus that causes disease & kills people, but preventable by vaccinating dogs and controlling their population. Being a team leader, I work every day towards this noble goal and this gives me great job satisfaction.”

Article contributed by Ms Caroline Yates, CEO of Mayhew.

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.