We won!!

“Did you see The Big Fix won the World Rabies Day Award?”

I hadn’t seen it. I had meant to check. I knew the award was being announced on Nov 3rd or One Health Day, but I had worked, then ran to The Greenup Holiday Market before it closed at two. So, Barb’s afternoon text was a surprise! We won!

World Rabies Day is an initiative of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. It is a day of global activism and awareness for rabies prevention. Every year there are hundreds of events reaching millions. Events range from nationwide media campaigns to local mass dog-vaccinations, puppet-shows for children, and quiz nights for medical personnel. Over 200 events from 56 countries were registered for World Rabies Day 2018.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has a “Zero by 30 plan.” The goal is to have no human deaths from rabies by 2030. Rabies is one of 20 Neglected Tropical Diseases, meaning it is not a problem in developed countries so nobody and no money had been working on it.

The key to saving human lives is preventing canine rabies. In other words, canine vaccination prevents the disease in humans by stopping the disease at its source. Vaccinated dogs (and cats) provide a protective, immunity barrier between potentially rabid wild animals and people. I had traveled halfway around the world to help prevent rabies in people by vaccinating and neutering dogs.

Rabies doesn’t just affect dogs and kill poverty-stricken humans, it has decimated members of endangered species (Ex: Ethiopian Wolf). World Rabies Day is celebrated on September 28 to commemorate the death of Louis Pasteur. Louie Pasteur, in addition to being the father of microbiology, created the first rabies vaccine.

The annual World Rabies Day Awards are given by a committee with members from the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Center for Disease Control, MSD Animal Health, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. The awards recognize Community Rabies Champions from across the world. There are four individual and student global awards. Then there are regional awards.


Rabies has been present in animals and humans since 2000 BC. It is a zoonotic disease (transmitted between animals and humans). Typically it is transmitted by a bite wound, but scratches can also be a transmission risk. Worldwide, almost all (more than 99%) of human cases result from a rabid dog. (In the U.S. cats, raccoons and bats are the most common because of mandated rabies vaccines in dogs.) In the rest of the world, rabies still kills 59-thousand people a year and millions of dogs. In the U.S. and most developing nations rabies is almost extinct. In third world countries, it is a real, daily threat.

Once you are bitten by a rabid dog (or cat, skunk or bat), the onset of symptoms can take anywhere from a few days to well over a year. The first symptoms are flu-like. Later there are delusions, abnormal behavior, and hallucinations. The swallowing muscles become paralysed and affect swallowing which causes the mad dog foaming mouth of horror movies. People do the same thing. The people I worked with in Africa had seen it.

Once symptoms start, rabies is virtually always fatal. (Post-exposure vaccines and antiserum are quite effective if given right after a bite or exposure. Even thorough bite wound washing can prevent half of the cases.) In fact, rabies is considered by the World Health Organization to be preventable. “The tools and science to halt the extensive suffering, loss of life and financial burden of rabies already exist.”

And yet one person every nine minutes worldwide dies of rabies. Most of these are from rural Africa and Asia where poverty rates are high. (You must have the $40 for each vaccine and more for other treatments. If you don’t have the money, you die a horrible death.) We went to one of those intensely poor areas on World Rabies Day 2018. The team I was with, The BIG FIX Uganda, held a vaccination and full-service veterinary field clinic at Pabbo Subcounty Headquarters in Amuru District. This area had a recent outbreak of rabies including three human deaths in the past three months. On that one day we, volunteers from the U.S. and Uganda and the clinic staff, vaccinated 737 dogs and cats, and performed 108 spay/neuter surgeries! When it was dark, we transported an additional eight dogs to The BIG FIX hospital to be spay/neutered the next day. People had waited for up to eight hours for surgery after the vaccines.

For 2018, the World Rabies Day theme is “Rabies: Share the message. Save a life.” I really wasn’t surprised that we won. The Big Fix, did a lot of animals that day, but the work continued into the community. From the application/nomination for the award: “The Big Fix Uganda has worked closely with District Veterinary Offices in Northern Uganda since 2012 to identify areas of greatest need and to respond to suspected rabies cases. Each year, it reaches as many subcounties as finances will allow, focusing on the areas of greatest need, or where rabies outbreaks have occurred. When The Big Fix began working in Gulu District in 2012, there were often suspected rabies cases. Today, there are almost none reported and few of the dog bites are suspected rabid dogs.” The Big Fix sponsored a school debate, art contest, school animal kindness clubs, school outreach and a parade complete with a very good marching band. Of course, a lot of other people worked hard on World Rabies Day also.

Graduates of The Big Fix Uganda’s Comfort Dog Project dog companionship program can be trained to be field education officers. These 27 field educators work closely with the veterinarians and provide rabies prevention education. A radio program hosts call-in questions to address rabies prevention. When they started six years ago, there was a widespread belief that witchcraft caused rabies. Dogs were killed because people feared rabies. Education has made people understand this deadly disease for what it is.

“WE WON!!! The BIG FIX Uganda has been named the recipient of the 2018 WORLD RABIES DAY AWARD FOR SUB-SAHARA AFRICA! The award will enable us to purchase rabies vaccine to hold vaccination clinics in Minakulu/Oyam District, where several confirmed rabies cases (and one human death) have occurred during the past two months. Thank you for this assistance!”

The award comes with about a thousand U.S. dollars. While that won’t keep Guardian Animal Medical Center in employees and expenses until lunchtime on a single day, that will help save hundreds of animal and people lives in Uganda. The award may provide credibility for future grants also. I know that it was well earned.

We won!

This international award!

It really is a big deal!