Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign: 
2017 Review

By Zoe Sims

Above, volunteer students and veterinarians with the 2017 Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign (LRVC) deliver rabies vaccinations in a family boma.

 

What does it take to eliminate a fatal disease? Rabies, a disease that is transmitted between all mammals – wild, domestic, and human alike – kills over 2,000 people in Kenya each year, with a disproportionate impact on young children. Over 98% of cases are caused by the bite or scratch of a domestic dog. Once contracted by a human, the disease is always fatal. 

At Mpala Research Centre, the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign is mobilizing scientists, veterinarians, and students to fight back against the disease. In 2017, the campaign’s third year, the LRVC expanded its coverage to new communities and revisited old ones, offering free rabies vaccinations to dogs and cats around Laikipia County.

The World Health Organization recommends widespread vaccination of domestic dogs as the most effective way to prevent rabies in humans in the long-term. Vaccinating against rabies in domestic dog populations simultaneously protects the domestic animals, the humans they interact with, and the wildlife in surrounding areas. Perhaps most importantly, the LRVC takes on the fatal disease in a landscape where wildlife, domestic animals, and humans are in close contact, and where access to human post-exposure vaccine – which is both costly and logistically challenging to administer – is limited. 

Above right, a group of children show their puppies' new vaccination certificates, which certify the animals for one year. Below left, volunteers record demographic data of immunized dogs.


Over six long weekends from November through December, with the help of around 50 young volunteers, over 1,000 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and more dogs named Tusker than anyone could count, LRVC 2017 successfully vaccinated a total of 9,313 dogs and cats across the county. Each weekend, volunteers visited a cluster of between 20 and 40 vaccination centers in one area of the county – from the arid highlands of Laikipia North to the farms of Naibor, the neighborhoods around Ngenia to the busy streets of Rumuruti.

Above, by boda-boda or backpack, community members bring their animals to vaccination centers any way they can!


Right, campaign co-founder and coordinator Dedan Ngatia receives boxes of pharmaceutical supplies donated by the Laikipia County Government to LRVC 2017.

The campaign’s record-breaking success was made possible by an incredible alliance of support from the government, nonprofits, conservancies, and many individual researchers and donors. The Laikipia County Government and the Kenya Zoonotic Disease Unit (ZDU) both provided essential support for the campaign, viewing it as a regional pilot study in the nation-wide effort to eradicate rabies in Kenya by the year 2030.

The LRVC was founded in 2015 by Mpala researchers Dedan Ngatia and Adam Ferguson, and veterinarian Dishon Muloi. Its first year, the campaign vaccinated 821 domestic dogs and cats in five pastoralist communities around Mpala. In 2016, the campaign expanded to additional communities, vaccinating over 4,500 animals. By 2017, the LRVC had set its sights higher, with additional partners, an ambitious 10,000-animal target, and the long-term goal of eradicating the disease from the county.


Left, community members bring their dogs to a vaccination center, where they will receive a one-year rabies vaccine, in addition to a multivitamin or de-worming injection, if necessary.

As it has grown, the project has also developed a research component. Ngatia and Ferguson are expanding their research to examine the demographics of domestic dogs in Laikipia, the potential for disease transmission between domestic dogs and wildlife, and the most effective methods to bring vaccinations to Laikipians and their animals.

The campaign remains entirely volunteer-based, with veterinarians from the International Livestock Research Institute, students from Karatina University, local community members, and Mpala scientists and staff all donating their time to the LRVC. Mpala Research Centre hosted and fed volunteers, fueled campaign vehicles, and provided logistical support throughout the campaign. In 2017 we were also thrilled to see our neighboring conservancies join the campaign at a new level, with Ol Pejeta Conservancy accommodating volunteers for one weekend, and Ol Jogi and Borana Conservancies also making key contributions.

Additionally, the LRVC received major support from tge Laikipia Wildlife Forum; Mpala-based research projects, including the Kenya Rangelands Wild Dog and Cheetah Project, the Small Carnivore Research and Parasite Study, and the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment; the Mpala Wildlife Foundation; the Africa Network for Animal Welfare; the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs; the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals; the University of Liverpool Institute of Infection and Global Health; RAW Africa; the National Science Foundation; the Rufford Small Grants Foundation; the Smithsonian Institution; Veterinarians International; and many individual donors and volunteers.

Right, Tusker is ready for vaccination! Once a veterinarian has administered the injection, the dog will receive a stripe of temporary paint to mark it as vaccinated.

There is still a long way to go in the campaign to expand rabies vaccination and education across the vast and diverse communities of Laikipia County. Yet the 2017 campaign’s success paints a promising picture of the road ahead, and the 2018 campaign is already fast approaching. Potential partners, volunteers, and supporters are strongly encouraged to get in touch with the LRVC team by contacting Mpala Princeton-in-Africa Fellow Zoe Sims (piaf@mpala.org). We are looking forward to hearing from you, and continuing to grow this campaign together!