Modern tools to help eliminate an ancient disease: The use of GIS in rabies elimination.

Conceptually, Dog Rabies Elimination is Easy

Conceptually, dog rabies elimination is easy. If we vaccinate enough dogs in the at-risk population, we can eliminate one of the deadliest diseases known to humankind. Such a simple concept to eliminate a disease that is 99,9% fatal may lead you to ask the obvious question: “Why haven’t we eliminated this dreadful disease?” This question is all the more pertinent considering that rabies kills tens of thousands of people every year. In fact, it is estimated that one person dies from this disease every 9 minutes around the world. Even more terrifying is that 40% of these victims are children under the age of 15 years. Not only are people victims, but the dogs that transmit rabies to humans eventually suffer the same terrible consequences – certain death.

The Challenge of Rabies Elimination

So, we come back to our question: If rabies – an awful disease that kills people (including children) and animals in a painful and horrific way – is 100% preventable through vaccination, why haven’t we yet eliminated it and prevented the needless suffering and loss of life? The challenge is that while rabies elimination is simple in theory (vaccinate to eliminate), the reality of vaccinating millions of dogs around the world is complex. There are scores of moving parts that need to align to ensure that a dog is vaccinated: A trained and licensed animal health professional to vaccinate dogs; cold chain and complex logistics to ensure that the vaccine gets to areas where it is needed; and sensitized owners who bring their dogs for vaccination. These are just a few of the challenges that need to be addressed for a dog to be vaccinated. When considering this at the scale of an entire country, things become even more complex.

Leveraging Modern Technology for Rabies Elimination

Luckily, modern technological advances have helped to ease some of these challenges – specifically, the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) which helps to capture, analyze and visualize the data necessary for stakeholders to make the right decisions. Simply, these systems generate maps, graphs and key outputs that turn complex data into something easily understandable so that the key decisions can be made effectively and rapidly. While this doesn’t sound particularly impactful to many people, the sheer scale of the data and analyses that transforms those seemingly mundane outputs into game-changers.

The Role of GIS in Overcoming Data Challenges

Unfortunately, GIS data analysis remains a highly specialized skill that is often not accessible in rabies endemic countries, which are typically the poorest and most under-resourced countries globally. This means that the necessary data to be crunched is not available and it can take months to generate the needed data. This delay impacts programs that are reliant on accurate data, that should be available in real-time so life-saving decisions can be made. Luckily, further innovation has made GIS data accessible to nearly any user. Rabies-dedicated surveillance systems and mobile phone Apps have made the impossible possible, even in the most resource-limited setting – something that is essential if we are to eliminate the disease from dogs and people for good.

Making Rabies Surveillance Data Accessible and Practical

Google Maps allows people to find new places, travel to different areas and better understand the world all that it has to offer. Google Maps is simply the front user side of a complex GIS system that has been made easy to use and understandable for non-experts. Similarly, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) has replicated this model for rabies surveillance – taking complex GIS data and analyses and, through a user-friendly interface, has made rabies surveillance data accessible, practical and available to both users and decision-makers, even in the most resource-limited settings.

The Importance of Data Sharing and Cooperation

The additional benefit of a compartmentalized system like this is that different partners can contribute their respective data to create a comprehensive picture of the overall situation. For example, the Ministry of Health can contribute bite case data, the Ministry of Livestock can add the vaccination data, and the central laboratory can contribute rabies case data. With cooperating and data sharing among these three ministries, a complete picture of the rabies situation in a country can be created without additional burdens on any of the partners.

Data Ownership, Privacy, and the GARC System

Data ownership is always a tricky issue, and laws and practices ensuring the privacy and security of all data (and especially personal data) must be considered. Otherwise, created systems by external stakeholders may be difficult to implement. However, this is not the case with the surveillance tools that GARC offers, as the user has 100% ownership of the data. This makes the system universally applicable and secure, without losing any of the benefits that it offers to rabies elimination efforts.

The Cost of Implementing the GARC System

The question that is now likely lingering in your mind would be the cost. How much would such a system cost for you to use? The answer is nothing. The system is entirely free of charge to anyone interested. GARC is a leading rabies NGO, which means that these tools are offered free of charge, with no hidden fees or costs. As part of our mission, we develop, maintain, and provide these tools to interested stakeholders to drive our joint vision of achieving rabies elimination.

Conclusion: The Path to Rabies Elimination

In conclusion, Rabies elimination is theoretically easy, but first there are several complexities associated with vaccinating a dog needed to be overcome to eliminate the disease. Advanced tools and technologies can be the game changers that help achieving our joint vision. One of such technologies is the use of GIS to help target, direct and effectively plan the rabies elimination efforts for a sustainable and strategic approach. Using systems such as those provided by GARC, which is free of charge, can help drive rabies elimination and achieve a world where no person or animal suffers and dies from the entirely preventable disease, Rabies.




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