- Title: BOLIVIA: Bolivia fights back against rabies
- Date: 3rd January 2009
- Summary: SIGN: VACCINATIONS
- Embargoed: 18th January 2009 12:00
- Topics: Health
- Reuters ID: LVA1KCYJOST3GMJ2LRHT6NY89F6S
- Story Text: Bolivia brings rabies deaths down by working to vaccinate and clean streets of infected dogs.
The packs of dogs nosing through garbage and roaming streets of Bolivian cities are too often carriers of a deadly virus: rabies.
Medical officials say deaths from rabies have dropped from 12 in 2005 to at least five this year, but there are still hundreds of dogs in Bolivia infected with a disease that has been all but eradicated in most developed countries.
In El Alto, a poor suburb perched on the plateau over La Paz, dogs are easy to come by and people buy them to protect their homes against thieves.
But many dogs end up stray and never receive vaccinations, putting bite victims at risk.
In La Paz, one health center reported they see up to 30 people a day seeking treatment for dog bites and administer rabies treatment for around 20 of those people.
Seven-year-old Miriam Oropeza Monasterios received rabies treatment at a La Paz clinic after being bit on the face by a dog.
Oropeza was bitten by a dog with a rabies vaccine, but doctors decided to treat her due to health problems and her vulnerability to infection.
"I was doing this to him and he jumped up and bit me," she said.
Dr. Freddy Lizon is the head of the Animal Health Program, a program supported by the government's Health Ministry. He said Bolivia is second only to poverty-stricken Haiti in incidents of rabies.
"Bolivia is the runner-up in Latin America, unfortunately. We are recorded as having the second most cases of rabies after Haiti," he said.
According to Lizon, four people have died from rabies this year, and officials are waiting to confirm what they think is a fifth rabies' victim.
Dogs are responsible for all the human rabies infections in Bolivia and Lizon said there have been 357 confirmed canine cases in 2008.
Vaccinations programs have brought numbers down since a 2005 outbreak killed 12 people and doctors found 897 infected dogs, but Lizon said vaccinations for dogs need to reach further to eliminate the disease.
"A national vaccine program wasn't put in place before and there were few vaccinations. About 50, 60 percent of the vaccines were covered and they didn't do them in the entire country. It was only in the main cities," he said.
Lizon is looking to guarantee vaccines for at least 80 percent of the canine population in Bolivia.
Another way officials are attacking the problem is by simply cleaning the streets of stray dogs. Officials estimate there are over 2.5 million dogs in Bolivia, about one dog for every four Bolivians, and that around 30 percent of the dogs don't have owners.
That's around 750,000 stray dogs roaming the streets with little chance of being vaccinated.
Dog catchers have been deployed in some places to pick up stray dogs.
In La Paz, around five employees from the pound patrol the streets in the early morning to avoid conflicts with citizens.
Stray dogs prowling the streets are loaded up in trucks and taken to the pound where, if gone unclaimed, they are given a lethal injection. This doesn't sit well with citizens like Victoria Mendoza.
"Animals also have the right to live their lives. No one has the right to take someone else's life, human or animal," she said.
Ten cages at the pound are reserved for dogs that have bitten people.
The pound holds the dog for ten days, the time it takes rabies symptoms to appear, before putting them to sleep.
Argentina had eradicated rabies in 1994 but registered one death in July from a dog that reportedly came from Bolivia.
Brazil registered only one rabies death this year and Uruguay and Chile are currently free of the disease.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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