Sterlising the rabies poison in dogs’ bite


In February this year a tragic incident occurred when Mwatitha Jickson was mauled to death by six stray dogs while on her way to a nearby clinic where she wanted to access vaccine for her third born child.

The incident happened in Chilota Village in Traditional Authority Njewa in Lilongwe close to old airport along the Lilongwe – Kasiya dusty road.

The husband, Samuel Jickson, told the media while in hospital with the child who had sustained injuries during the attack by the dogs that his wife was attacked by a pack of six stray dogs whose owner has not been identified to date.


He said his wife and her child were only rescued from the vicious and ruthless dogs by a bicycle taxi operator but the woman died on arrival at Kamuzu Central Hospital.

The child sustained wounds in various parts of the body and was offered rabies post exposure prophylaxis [anti-rabies] drugs.

In the wake of such developments and many other human threatening cases, the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development and Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care of Animal (LSPCA) have been offering veterinary related services that include rabies vaccination and free spay and neuter (sterilisations) to reduce stray dog population in the city.


“We have been conducting stray dog population management programme which is aimed at sterilising, rabies vaccination to increase the number of vaccinated dogs in Lilongwe while at the same time reducing the number of unwanted puppy births.

“After sterilisation and vaccination the dogs are marked using an environmentally friendly paint for easy identification,” says a joint stray dog population management programme statement by LSPCA and the

Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development.

Richard Ssuna, LSPCA Program Director, says the annual rabies vaccination intervention has seen over 35,000 dogs and surgically sterilised over 5,000 of them.

He adds that close to K150m has been invested in only the free community sterilisation clinics the last three years.

In February this year LSPCA commemorated the World Spay Day with the de-worming, rabies vaccination and surgical sterilisation of over 300 dogs in Area 23 in Lilongwe.

T h e G e r m a n b a s e d Welttierschutzgeselleschaft (WTG) supported the local initiative aimed at addressing canine and feline populations that have exceeded the capacity of local community to properly care for.

“Sterilising street dogs and returning them to their territories on the streets allows for a natural reduction in their population over time and leaves the most socialised dogs on the streets.

“Sterilising pets prevents them from contributing to the problem of street animal, over population and invariably controls the rabies prevalence in human occupied areas,” Ssuna says in reference to the day.

How rabies spreads?

At least 90 percent of human rabies cases worldwide result from domestic dog bites, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rabies is an infection of the central nervous system with an incubation period of anywhere from one week to almost one year after exposure, resulting typically from a bite from an infected animal.

The actual disease is no laughing matter either. The symptoms can include generalised weakness and flu-like symptoms followed by “anxiety, confusion, agitation delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations” resulting in death.

Rabies globally claims 55,000 lives annually with the majority being kids below the age of 15.

Those victims that survive bites from rabid animals have to live with horrific physical and emotional scars that cannot be treated the rest of their lives.

Threats to human life Stray dogs are a serious animal welfare and public health concern as they are a source of uncontrolled breeding and a reservoir of rabies, a deadly disease to humans.

As such control of stray dog’s population will greatly reduce the number of rabies prevalence in human occupied areas.

LSPCA plans to sterilise 70 percent of the target community. As such people are being urged to take part in the programme and ensure all the dogs are vaccinated.

The weekly community outreach are done on Tuesday and Wednesday and the public is being encouraged to bring the dogs at designated sites for instance Area 23 Police Unit ground where diagnosis and treatment is offered free of charge by a team of specialised veterinary experts.

Welcome intervention During an evaluation and monitoring session on the progress of the intervention, one community leader Davis Matola in Area 23 said in an interview he received the mobile veterinary services wholeheartedly.

“I must admit that there has been drastic decline in cases of rabies and even stray dogs in my area at the moment. This has come about as a result of continued interventions that are being spearheaded by LSPCA specialised staff offering a wide range of services to the community around here,” he said in an interview at his home in Area 23 during the evaluation process.

Another resident Keith Sakusa said there have been changes noticed since the clinics commenced.

He added that he was pleased when the global Spay Day was fully dedicated to residents of Area 23 who brought their dogs and cats to be vaccinated for rabies, sterilised and also screened for other challenges as well.

Synergies with animal health dept Rabies control is primarily a public good. The Ministry of

Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development under Livestock and Animal Health has been mounting weekly anti-rabies campaign from 2004 through 2008 says Julius Chulu, Chief Animal Health Officer and renowned micro-biologist based at the Central Veterinary laboratory in Lilongwe.

Chulu says from 2009 the period was extended to one month to allow many people to have their domesticated pets vaccinated.

During this period all dogs brought to the vaccination centre are administered drugs for free.

The event is given prominence through coverage on radio, television, print media including banners and posters that are posted on strategic locations.

“Although the period was extended to one month, the number of dogs vaccinated does not reach the required 100 percent. This is due to inadequate human, physical and financial resources and some owners do not bring their dogs deliberately,” says Chulu in response to a questionnaire.

He adds that there is collaboration with LSPCA, the Police and Judiciary across the country to raise the profile on animal welfare through enforcing the Protection of Animal Act.

Animal welfare has also been included in the curriculum at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the veterinary school. Similar efforts are also being spearheaded as part of studies for pupils learning in primary schools.

Malawi’s past efforts on rabies

Before 1983, control of rabies in the country was on an ad hoc basis, according to Chulu.

Three regional rabies control teams existed for sometime controlling rabies, mainly through dog shooting and mass vaccinations.

In 1995 Department of Animal Health and Industry (DAHI) proposed the formation of a joint collaborative taskforce to formulate new strategies for Rabies control in Malawi.

The taskforce was composed of representation from Ministry of Health and Population, City Council officials, Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Animal Health and Industry.

A project document was produced jointly, and a budget of K2.00 million was proposed and submitted to the relevant ministries for funding. The results were discouraging because there were no responses from other participating Ministries.

Fortunately in 1997, the project concept was recognised by an Italian NGO (C.E.S.T.A.S.) under the sponsorship of the European Union.

It decided to implement Rabies control strategy first as a pilot scheme in one Agriculture Development Division (ADD) – Lilongwe ADD was therefore selected as a pilot phase and then later the initiative was extended to other divisions.

The control strategies which were very successful in the pilot phase included: Complete dog survey by use of questionnaires to consolidate data on dog statistics in the country.

Collection and analysis of all available laboratory and hospital data in order to create a sound background for planning and creation of specific rabies control offices in each ADD or each district. This was going to fit well with the new bill on decentralisation which had just been passed in Parliament by then.

The pilot scheme was completed successfully and finished in February 1999. During the pilot phase, assistance was provided to other ADDs, on the basis of the results of the pilot, a new project phase to curb rabies was extended accommodate another six other ADDs.

Scanty rabies statistics

Experts suggest that controlling and preventing rabies in dogs is crucial to preventing the disease in humans.

The incidence of human rabies in Malawi cannot be estimated accurately due to insufficient liaison between the medical and the veterinary profession.

In the past before the establishment of the College of Medicine in Blantyre, all human rabies suspect specimens were sent to the Central Veterinary Laboratory based on the Likuni road in Lilongwe for processing.

However, this is not the case now with the coming in of College of Medicine as all is done there and the stumbling block is that statistics are never shared to animal health experts, he says.

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