The burden of rabies in rural Tanzania and impacts on local communities

Hampson & Maganga Sambo

Neglected diseases affect the worlds poorest, most marginalized communities, collectively causing the loss of >50 million future years of disability-free lives and equally high socio-economic costs. Tools for eliminating many of these diseases are available and tackling them will be critical to achieving the millennium development goals. This is particularly true of rabies, which kills over 55,000 people each year throughout Africa and Asia and is spread primarily by domestic dogs. In Tanzania an estimated 1,500 human fatalities occur annually, which could be prevented by prompt delivery of appropriate post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). However, PEP shortages are frequent and victims must often travel long distances to obtain expensive treatment creating delays that increase risks of fatality. A rabies epidemic is ongoing in southern Tanzania. While detailed information on the epidemiology and burden of rabies is available for northern Tanzania, nothing is known about its dynamics in this geographically and ecologically distinct setting. By conducting the first epidemiological study of rabies in Southern Tanzania, Maganga Sambo will estimate the burden of rabies in these communities and levels of awareness about rabies prevention and control. This work will guide the targeting of control measures and provisioning of health services including PEP allocation and awareness activities. It will provide critical baseline data for evaluating future large-scale control programs, actively solicited by Tanzanian stakeholders and advocated by international donors.