Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has stressed the need for strategies to improve on surveillance of rabies in Nigeria, a disease said to kill 55,000 people yearly in underdeveloped countries of Africa and Asia, including Nigeria.
Professor Chukwu made the disclosure on Tuesday at the opening of the first International Conference on Rabies in West Africa, which was organised by the Centre for Control and prevention of Zoonoses, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja.
The Health Minister, who was represented at the occasion by the Chief Medical Director, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Professor Temitope Alonge, stated that rabies was a deadly disease that was still prevalent in Nigeria because of poor notification and control of the disease.
According to him, the commonest sources of infection are from infected dogs and cats as well as wild animals such as bats, foxes and raccoons.
The Health Minister noted that rabies vaccine were available and that many lives could be saved provided the vaccine was injected within 24 hours following the bite of the animal.
He declared: If the rabies vaccine is not given quickly and the rabies virus is allowed to progress, the outcome is almost always death.”
The Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, who spoke through the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Professor Idowu Olayinka, while expressing appreciation to the university to participate at the conference, asked that the experts at the meeting proffer solution to the control of rabies in the country.
An expert in rabies, Professor Harold Russell, stated that the World Health Organisation (WHO) considered rabies control a priority because it accounted for 70,000 deaths of people, mostly children below age 15.
With Africa currently ranked second in the world in terms of registered rabies cases, he called for collaboration between veterinary and human medicine to put a check to rabies, whose causative germ can spread from animals to humans.
Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, represented at the occasion by the Permanent secretary, Oyo State Ministry of Heath, Mr Olufemi Akanmu, noted that several research findings on rabies originated from Ibadan, and that rabies was a highly fatal disease.
According to him, the problem of rabies persisted because of lack of awareness and information on the disease in the community, use of traditional medicine, lack of surveillance data, poor prognosis, hunting with dogs and increasing demand for bush meat in Africa.
However, Senator Ajimobi said that in a bid to improve surveillance on the rabies in the state, his government had printed and distributed case-based definitions, treatment protocols and guidelines to hospitals and clinics as well as supported efforts at ensuring prompt reporting and notification of diseases in the state.
Meanwhile, Principal Coordinator, Rabies in West Africa (RIWA), Professor Bamidele Ogunkoya, lamented the dearth of data on cases of rabies, good rabies vaccine and system failure to response appropriately to rabies care and prevention.
Professor Ogunkoya, noting that rabies had the highest mortality rate among all zoonotic diseases, declared that there was no justification for people to die as a result of rabies.
Contrary to public thinking that rabies is only confirmed when the mad dog dies, he stated that it was possible for a rabid dog not to die as a result of the disease while its victim does not.
According to Professor Ogunkoya, evidences now suggest that aside dogs and cats, people can also contract rabies from wild animals such as squirrels.
Professor Ogunkoya, the called for increased research into identifying more dangerous forms of rabies in the community such as the Lagos and Mokola variants of rabies virus in the community.