In the fight against one of the world’s most serious diseases, the Mission Rabies team in India was recently joined by two members of Davies Veterinary Specialists’s nursing team to support the project.
Patient care supervisor Laura Barham and nurse supervisor for diagnostics Emily Prejac arrived in Goa last November and spent two weeks helping to vaccinate dogs, a stark contrast to their usual jobs.
98 percent of rabies cases in humans are a consequence of dog bites from rabid dogs. Mission Rabies works in parts of India, Malawi and Uganda and Sri Lanka, using local teams and international volunteers, with an aim to vaccinate 70 percent of street dogs for three consecutive years. Scientific evidence indicates that if this is achieved the disease will be eliminated from the area.
Davies is a partner of Mission Rabies and Internal Medicine clinician Ian Battersby is a Trustee. Each year the practice raises funds to send a pair of volunteers and this time Laura and Emily were chosen. Whilst Davies funded their flight, the pair had to raise an additional £2000 for their trip and took part in sponsored dog walks, bake sales, raffles and competition. Emily also ran the London Marathon in a bright yellow Mission Rabies vest.
Laura and Emily describe a typical Mission Rabies day in Goa:
The volunteers were divided into six teams, each with a team of Goan dog-catchers, referred to as ‘the boys’ and a driver. We would meet at 6.30am have a quick cup of sweet chai and then get going in the trucks. Each team was given a phone with a Mission Rabies app and was allocated colour-coded areas to cover, which could be anything from beaches and wealthy residential areas to building sites, schools, markets, factories, highways, fields and slums. The skilled boys would catch street dogs using nets and then we would vaccinate them and paint a red line on the top of their heads. This enables them to be counted easily when the surveyor checks an area after it has been done. We also knocked on house doors to ask owners if they would like their pet dogs vaccinated. There was a mix of languages spoken, including Hindi, English and Konkani (the local Goan language), so having the boys and driver help with communication was essential. Every vaccinated dog was logged on the app. Once an area had been completed a new team would cover the circuit to vaccinate any dogs that may have eluded being caught the first time. The morning stint lasted until lunchtime and we would get to work again between 3pm and 6pm.
In the two weeks that Laura and Emily were in Goa more than 5,000 dogs were vaccinated and over the four weeks of the mass vaccination drive, more than 10,000 dogs were vaccinated.
Says Laura, “This is the first time I have volunteered to work on a project and I can’t believe I have never done it before especially as it is a privilege to be able to use my nursing skills to help. I can honestly say it is the best experience I have ever had and I am proud to have been a small part of the great work that Mission Rabies does. I would most definitely do it again and recommend to anyone else to do it too.”
Adds Emily, “I really do feel like I have been part of something amazing, even with just the small contribution I made in the two weeks of being there. It was great to see first hand the incredible work Mission Rabies is doing and the effect it is having. I am so pleased I had the opportunity to take part and also use my skills as a nurse to help in this way. I would definitely like to do it again and would urge anyone considering volunteering to go for it, they won’t regret it.”