Rabies is a global health problem that devastates lives in the most vulnerable communities. This zoonotic disease, which is mainly transmitted to people through dog bites, kills nearly 59,000 people each year. Around the world, immense efforts are being made to prevent the disease caused by an implacable virus – anyone who shows symptoms, dies, unless we are one step ahead and vaccinate. We know that eliminating rabies in dogs through vaccination is a proven way to end deaths in humans. We have the tools to wipe out the disease for good, but despite this, rabies still takes someone’s life every 9 minutes. Why? Because it takes more than a single campaign, or an action by an isolated group, to ever achieve this goal. It takes commitment, collaboration, and a net of contributors around the globe.
Eliminating rabies stands or falls with those who take the heroic steps to fight this disease. People who walk miles, spend hours vaccinating animals, search for solutions, or teach and empower communities. People who work to bring rabies high enough on political agendas to get the right people to care. Without their hard work, we would be nowhere near reaching the ambitious ZeroBy30 target. In the International Veterinary Health (IVH) team, we believe that those people are true heroes who deserve medals, and so, in 2020, we introduced Rabies Hero Awards to recognize their outstanding contributions saving human and animal lives from rabies.
The awards come with a medal and certificate, and our heartfelt gratitude. We recognize these Heroes on the emergence website, with their well-deserved spot on the Rabies Hero Awards “wall of fame”, and we spotlight them on Twitter and Instagram.
Our Rabies Heroes each tackle the disease in their own way and face different challenges across all continents. They are champions in areas such as fieldwork, research, advocacy, or education. The everyday heroes who have made a real, tangible difference on the ground, oftentimes despite the scarce resource at hand. We want to give them a voice so the world can hear about the amazing efforts of those who have brought us closer to the rabies elimination goal.
To me, the idea of awards feels right on many levels. In our daily mission of improving lives we applaud the dedication of those who make a real impact. More importantly, it resonates with me deeply on a personal level, echoing my experience of the vaccination campaign in Malawi, which left me in awe of all the rabies-fighters ever since. It brings back the memories of work in the field and the faces of fellow volunteers, and community workers, coming together to get dogs immunized against rabies. Volunteers who had taken the rabies cause deep to heart, enough to leave home and give up moments with their family, to fight through the heat, sweat, and exhaustion, in a battle for a rabies-free world. No matter their background and the personal strides made to get there, they were all giving a piece of their life, and, to me, are all heroes.
This appreciation stretches far beyond my own field experience. It comes along with the realization that the magnitude of the sacrifice is far greater when these efforts are not temporary but happen daily, amid the harsh reality of a deadly disease taking a toll on the community you live in. The comprehension of rabies becomes ‘real’ when people have experienced it from (far too) close or have seen the pain and fear of it in someone’s eyes. To face that reality is then a tough task.
When out there in Malawi, I could feel safe having previously been vaccinated against rabies, but sadly this ‘luxury’ is available for only a few in many rabies endemic places: rabies makes people live in fear and our Rabies Heroes do everything they can to change this. They understand that NOW is the time to take action. And so, they do. Every single day. Through a simple gesture of giving them an award, we want to honour the efforts of those named here, and also those who aren’t visible to our eyes but make strides in this field as well.
The Rabies Hero Awards bring those endeavors to light. We want to encourage the heroes to continue their work and inspire others to join in, coming together as a One Health community, until there are no more deaths from rabies. By recognizing their achievements, we celebrate saving lives.
Visit the Rabies Hero Awards “wall of fame” now to meet the heroes and read about their amazing achievements!
Follow the hashtag #RabiesHero on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with new awards.
Tell us if you know a hero! Nominations can be sent throughout the year.