MEXICO CITY – Mexico has become the first country in the world to be free from dog-transmitted rabies, according to the Pan American Health Organization on Monday announcing the World Health Organization validation.
To achieve WHO validation, Mexico implemented a strategy that included free mass-vaccination campaigns for dogs from the 1990s, as well as continuous surveillance and public awareness-raising campaigns for a timely diagnosis.
“Eliminating rabies doesn’t happen by accident. It takes political resolve, careful planning and meticulous execution,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the PAHO statement.
The WHO considers a country free from rabies after registering two years of zero transmission to humans. Mexico went from having 60 cases in 1990 to three in 1999 and none since 2006, the statement added.
The last two cases of rabies in humans transmitted by dogs occurred in the State of Mexico in 2005.
There was previously no process to verify whether a country was free of this disease until Mexico initiated one in December 2016.
The procedure included the formation of a group of independent international experts established by PAHO and the WHO, as well as a 300-page document that Mexico presented with historical information on rabies in the country.
PAHO and its specialized veterinary public health center accompanied and supervised the implementation of the strategy during the process.
The experts carried out a mission in Mexico in September 2018 where they verified if the country met all the requirements set by the WHO and a year later the group recommended that the director-general of the WHO and PAHO validate the elimination.
PAHO director Dr. Carissa Etienne said that “Mexico is showing the world that ending infectious diseases for the next generation is possible and is the right way forward.”
Rabies causes 60,000 deaths a year, mainly in Asia and Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, new cases have decreased by more than 95 percent in humans and 98 percent in dogs since 1983.
PAHO and the WHO recommended that the country continues with the prevention, surveillance and rabies control to sustain the elimination since this virus still circulates among wild animals such as bats.
In March 2019, the Ministry of Health administered more than 14 million vaccines during the first week of rabies vaccination, the ministry said.
There were also more than 2 million immunizations given to dogs and cats in rural areas classified as high risk due to their low rates of vaccination coverage or the presence of rabies in wildlife.
Rabies vaccinations for people attacked by dogs, cats, skunks, foxes and bats are also part of the National Rabies Control Program.
In addition to rabies, Mexico eliminated onchocerciasis – also known as river blindness and transmitted by blackfly bites – in 2015, as well as trachoma, an infectious eye disease, in 2017.
These are part of the 30 infectious diseases that PAHO has set as a goal to eliminate from the continent by 2030.