The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says poor surveillance, under-reporting, inadequate rabies diagnostic capacity and an absence of inter-sectoral coordination have contributed to underestimation of the scale of the disease burden.
Dr Abebe Haile Gabriel, the Regional Programme Leader for Africa and FAO Representative to Ghana, said reducing the burden of rabies on public and animal health could not be achieved by one sector alone.
Dr Gabriel was speaking at the opening of a five-day workshop in Accra on rabies, entitled: “One Health Surveillance Approach for the Control of dog-mediated human Rabies in Ghana”.
The workshop is to gather inputs into the design and preparation of a strategic plan for rabies control, following a one health approach.
He said dog vaccination was the most effective way to eliminate human dog-mediated rabies and in the light of these facts, FAO, together with its partners have joined their efforts to develop a set of tools, guidelines and initiatives, which could assist countries to achieve the global goal.
Dr Gabriel said it was important that the capacities of Rabies Rapid Respond Teams were strengthened as well as provided with resources at the metro, municipal and district assemblies for them to work appropriately to contain the disease.
“Recognizing the need for a holistic “One Health Body” in the country, the FAO and the WHO are supporting the relevant line ministries to develop and institutionalize a ‘One Health policy’,” he added.
He said one could not overemphasize the crucial significance of collaborating with the relevant sectors and stakeholders and other associated Ministries/agencies to work closely together in surveillance and information sharing with respects to dog bites and suspected rabies cases.
Rabies is reported as an endemic disease in Ghana and among the 30 reportable zoonotic diseases, the disease was ranked among the six topmost priority zoonotic diseases in Ghana during the recently completed One Health Zoonotic Disease Prioritization workshop held in Accra.
He said although rabies was fully preventable and could be eliminated using appropriate sustainable control strategies, lack of adequate investment and concerted efforts had continued to result in escalation of human deaths, especially in view of an ever-growing human and dog population.
Rabies is the only disease known to have 100 percent case fatality rate except for a few reported cases of survivors, therefore, the golden rule was to prevent dog-mediated human rabies through mass vaccination of dogs and cats and post-exposure prophylaxis in humans.
“It is my expectation that by the time Ghana will be celebrating the World Rabies Day in September 2018, the Strategic Plan for rabies will be ready for official launching and implementation to eliminate rabies in the country,” Mr Gabriel said.
Dr. Gyiele Nurah, Minister of State for Food and Agriculture, said although bats were known to be reservoirs, dogs were the main source of human rabies deaths and contributed to up to 99 per cent of all rabies transmissions to humans.
He said however, the eradication of this disease was possible through vaccination of dogs and responsible dog ownership.
“Canine rabies has been known to occur in the dog population of Ghana for decades, with the domestic dog being the principal vector,” he added.
He said the increase in the incidence of rabies in several parts of Ghana, lately had been blamed on the low vaccination coverage, unwillingness of pet owners to vaccinate their animals and the continuous presence of too many stray pets, whose owners could not be identified.
Dr Nurah said rabies elimination in Ghana could be achieved through mass dog vaccinations, targeting coverage of 70 per cent and above annually for at least five years continuously followed by a mopping up phase.