The Philippines’ inadequate measures to control rabies led to its failure to reduce the incidence of the deadly viral disease transmitted mainly through the bite of dogs and other animals, new research suggests.

Although the Philippines introduced the standard ‘intra-dermal’ vaccine regimen as far back as 1997 and also has animal bite care centers equipped for advanced treatment with rabies immunoglobulin, a medicine to protect against rabies, the country has reported 200–300 rabies deaths each year since 2007, according to researchers.

“This viral infection is completely preventable if only vaccines are put to good use”

Karl Evans Henson, Hospital Infection Control & Epidemiology Centre, The Medical City.

Published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the study looked at human cases of rabies from 2006 to 2015 admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, a national referral facility for infectious diseases and tropical medicine. Annually, about 60–80 rabies patients are admitted to the hospital.

“The incidence of rabies is highest in Metro Manila and surrounding areas,” the researchers say.

According to the WHO, rabies causes tens of thousands of deaths annually mostly in Africa and Asia while also causing losses worth US$8.6 billion. However, rabies can be prevented by vaccinating dogs which are responsible for 99 percent of cases mainly through dog bites, the WHO adds.

Ferdinand de Guzman, an author of the study affiliated with the San Lazaro Hospital, told SciDev.Net that in the Philippines the focus is on the management of bites rather than on the prevention of canine rabies through dog immunization programs.

According to Ferdinand de Guzman, a study author associated with the San Lazaro Hospital, the Philippines places more emphasis on managing dog bites than on canine rabies prevention through dog immunization programs.

According to the report, “Zero by 30″—an worldwide initiative to eradicate human fatalities brought on by “dog-mediated” rabies by 2030—requires enhancing the control program based on scientific analysis.

Research conducted in nations like Brazil has revealed a decline in human rabies cases as a result of rabies control programs, particularly mass animal vaccination. In contrast, the Philippines only does widespread animal immunizations in a few locations.

De Guzman also cited instances when regulations governing the “management and elimination” of rabies in humans and animals had not been put into practice. Many animals are not kept on a leash and are given free rein to the point where they are deemed stray, the man claimed.

The researchers suggested constant monitoring of pet dogs’ rabies vaccination coverage and the reinforcement of control measures in areas where rabies cases are prevalent to ameliorate the rabies situation in the Philippines.

The study highlights the fact that the incidence of rabies in the Philippines has plateaued, “requiring the government to come up with creative and innovative ways to strengthen current public health programs to reduce and, if possible, finally eradicate this fatal disease,” according to Karl Evans Henson, director at the Hospital Infection Control & Epidemiology Centre, The Medical City, Pasig City, Philippines.

Henson also emphasized the danger posed by immunizations that are sold as fakes. “As our study demonstrates, rabies preventive programs will face a steep uphill battle if fake vaccines continue to proliferate,” the statement reads.

We can only successfully control rabies with the help of business, industry, and government, according to Henson. If immunizations are used properly, this viral illness can be completely avoided.

By the time of publication, SciDev.Net had not heard back from the Philippine Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Department of Health.