Stamping Out Rabies in Kabul

As the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul is home to over 4.5 million people — and tens of thousands of dogs, many of which are strays. Prior to 2017, an average of 38 people died each year from canine-mediated rabies. But thanks to a mass vaccination program, there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in Kabul since April of 2021, and consequently no deaths.

With the goal of eradicating rabies in the city, the vaccination program was spearheaded by Mayhew Afghanistan (the Afghan branch of the UK animal charity Mayhew), in partnership with Kabul Municipality, the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock, and Kabul University’s Vet Faculty. To date, almost 95,000 dogs have been vaccinated against rabies in 16 of the city’s districts, and plans are underway for rolling the program out to the six remaining outlying districts.

This program is the first of its kind for Afghanistan, and comprises a team of Mayhew Afghanistan veterinarians and a team of Kabul Municipality dog-catchers, who are trained to humanely capture the dogs. After vaccination, the dogs are marked with a dash of non-toxic paint, then released.

In order to break the chain of rabies virus transmission, at least 70% of the dog population in any one area is vaccinated before the team moves on to the next. In addition, the team is helping raise awareness of rabies and its impact on human health. They talk to locals of all ages, explaining their work and discussing dog bite prevention and how to behave around the roaming dogs in their city. Since May 2021, the team has reached 1,440 adults and 3,120 children.

“Since it first began five years ago, our rabies vaccination programme in Kabul — devised by Mayhew Afghanistan’s Country Director, Dr Abdul-Jalil Mohammadzai DVM — has raised the profile of the country’s struggle with rabies,” says Caroline Yates, Head of International Projects and Relations at Mayhew. “Dr Mo, as he is affectionately known, convinced the Kabul authorities to stop culling dogs and helped initiate this lifesaving program. The large number of vaccinated dogs, and the fact there have been no canine-mediated rabies deaths in humans for 18 months, proves the campaign is working.”

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