Grenada, West Indies (November 27 2017) — John Clark, a Malawian born graduate of St George’s School of Veterinary Medicine, in the Caribbean island of Grenada, has embarked on a mission to eradicate rabies in Malawi in a bid to rid the country of a disease that claims hundreds of lives a year.
In September, John and his wife, Rachel Clark, travelled to Malawi to participate in a rabies vaccination clinic in the village of Embangweni, about 250 kilometers north of Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, where Dr. Clark grew up. When they arrived, Dr. Clark discovered a line of people and animals several hundred deep. They encountered the same response days later at their second clinic in Mufwe, Zambia.
Across the two communities, Dr. Clark, his wife Rachel, and veterinary assistants administered more than 542 rabies vaccines, helping to address a dire public health problem that spans the country and the continent. The project is conducted through Dr Clark’s charitable organisation, the Community Health Coalition.
The 2012 SGU graduate modelled the mission after a vaccination program created by Dr. Guy Palmer, Founding Director of the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health at Washington State University. The program aimed to create a rabies-free zone in Kenya and Tanzania that would encourage other regions to focus their attention on the disease as well.
Dr. Clark consulted with Dr. Palmer—who was also a keynote speaker at St. George’s University’s One Health One Medicine Symposium in October—and began to put together his own plan to vaccinate dogs in remote locations in Malawi and Zambia.
Globally, around 59,000 people a year die from the viral disease, and over half are children. In Malawi it is estimated that a child a day dies because of rabies. The World Health Organisation has named rabies as one of the top 20 neglected tropical diseases, yet every human death is preventable. By vaccinating 70% of the canine population, spread of the disease is halted, leading ultimately to eradication.
The programme is a powerful example of how treating animals can have significant benefits for human health; a key principle of the One Health One Medicine (OHOM) initiative spearheaded by Johns Clark’s Alma Mata, St George’s University.
“One Health One Medicine is the convergence of human, animal and ecosystem health, resulting in a joined up approach between complementary sectors that, all too often, are practiced in a vacuum,” said Dr Cal Macpherson, Vice Provost for International Program Development at St. George’s. “Each of these practices are inextricably connected, and by learning from each other and pooling resources, great progress can be made for the benefit of human and animal kind.”
Commenting, John Clarke said “By doing something as simple as vaccinating dogs, it is possible to improve the health of children as well. Rabies is a problem that is plaguing people across Africa, but the beauty is that there is already a solution. We aren’t reinventing the wheel – we’re just doing the physical work because we know it will make a difference.”
But there is more to be done. In order to vaccinate 70 percent of the dog population to control rabies, approximately 80,000 vaccines will be required in northern Malawi alone. “We will try again next year and just keep trying and trying. We hope to get bigger each year”, Dr Clarke said.
In October, St. George’s University hosted a two-day One Health One Medicine Symposium. The University is leading the global initiative with its medical, veterinary, and public health programs, in addition to its World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre on Environmental and Occupational Health; all situated together on one campus and framed by the tenets of collaborative, global health. The speakers at this upcoming conference are pioneers and leaders in this field.
For more information on the vaccination programme, please contact Rachel Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on SGU, please contact:
Henry Gilliver at Rait Orr – Henry@raittorr.co.uk / +44 020 7922 7719
Antonia Furlan at Beattie – Antonia.Furlan@onlybeattie.com / +44 020 7053 6006
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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