Street dogs are everywhere in India. From the highest mountain ranges to the harshest deserts, from densely crowded urban areas to rural fields. With around 60 million free-ranging dogs, India arguably has the biggest population of street dogs in the world. In September 2021, India launched the National Action Plan For Rabies Elimination by 2030. This action plan promises to take the One Health approach in eliminating rabies, however experts say this plan hasn't accounted for several barriers, ground realities, and legal issues.
"The concept of One Health basically is that human health cannot be seen in isolation, that human health is deeply connected and interconnected with animal health and environmental health. And this is particularly so for diseases like rabies," said Abi Vanak, an ecologist and professor at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in Bengaluru.
He added that given the country's animal birth control rules and its position that street dogs have a right to stay on the streets, the target of eliminating rabies by 2030 may be hard to achieve.
Rabies, one of the oldest zoonotic diseases known to humankind, kills a recorded 18,000-20,000 Indians every year. That’s a third of the world’s rabies burden, and experts believe a lot of deaths are unrecorded as rabies was not a notifiable disease until summer 2021. Nearly 97% of rabies cases are dog-mediated, as dogs are the major reservoirs of this neurotropic virus.
"Many rabies patients die at home and never enter the surveillance system which is often weak, especially in rural areas," said Deborah Nadal, a medical anthropologist and consultant to the World Health Organization. "We have to remember that most rabies victims are people who belong to socially economically and geographically marginalized communities."
She added that, "Since rabies is fully preventable, we cannot accept that underprivileged communities and especially their children, because 50% of rabies victims are children continue to die and to bear the disproportionate burden of rabies."
In this episode of Suno India's Science and Us, Mahima Jain reports on the link between street dogs and India’s struggles with rabies elimination. From how India ended up with an overpopulation of street dogs to the potential barriers in implementing the One Health approach, this episode takes you through the many factors that complicate rabies control and dog welfare in India.
This audio report was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published by Suno India on 25 November 2021.
Banner image: Street dogs in Udaipur / Credit: Dey Alexander via Flickr.