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WSU Rabies Free Tanzania launches vaccination decentralization trial

Dr. Felix Lankester vaccinates a dog in Tanzania as part of the Rabies Free Africa program.
Dr. Felix Lankester vaccinates a dog in Tanzania as part of the Rabies Free Africa program.

Washington State University Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health (Allen School)-Rabies Free Tanzania announces a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded program, expected to radically improve dog vaccination delivery to address human rabies deaths in East Africa. Rabies kills nearly 60,000 people each year, primarily children from dog bites.

The first of its kind, this five‑year, approximately $2.3 million research effort explores a decentralized, community-based method to deliver vaccinations.

Rabies Free Tanzania has proven success with centralized pulsed team‑led mass dog vaccination campaigns in which vaccines are stored in central towns and delivered by vehicle to villages normally once per year. In the new research program, however, it is expected that if vaccines can be stored locally in remote villages it would enable vaccinations to be continuously delivered at the ward level by livestock field officers and greatly expand access to domestic dogs while providing more flexible, efficient, and consistent vaccinations.

Simultaneously, researchers are carrying out cost‑effectiveness and benefit‑cost analyses to compare the economic benefits of the pulsed and continuous mass dog vaccination approaches. If proven cost‑effective, the study has the potential to transform disease control efforts and catalyze the global elimination of this most lethal of human infectious diseases.

Led by Dr. Felix Lankester, director of Allen School’s Rabies Free Tanzania, who is working with Dr. Jonathan Yoder, with WSU School of Economic Sciences, the collaborative effort to improve human health is supported by MSD Animal Health/Merck. A partner since 2003, MSD Animal Health/Merck has provided more than one million rabies vaccines free of charge to the program. In addition to their ongoing funding for a pilot study that will inform the final design of the NIH program, they will also be providing all of the vaccines for this program. Additional international partners include, the Nelson Mandela Institute for Science and Technology, Ifakara Health Institute, University of Glasgow, and Afrique One – ASPIRE. The collective result is expected to make a profound improvement in vaccination implementation and associated costs.

Closeup of Felix Lankester.
Felix Lankester

“Over the years we have had excellent results implementing pulsed centralized mass dog vaccination campaigns that require teams of vaccinators to travel in vehicles to villages bringing vaccines to vaccinate dogs annually. However, in order to better reach remote communities, we want to see whether a continuous decentralized approach, in which locally stored vaccines are managed through the year by livestock field officers, will allow for a more cost‑effective delivery strategy,” said Dr. Lankester.

He added, “We think this approach will allow dogs to be vaccinated as needed versus the annual call to vaccinate as it is now executed. There is a great opportunity for certified local representatives, with the support of local health ministries, to own the process and distribution of vaccines which will increase efficiencies and broaden the zone of vaccinations.”

The World Health Organization, World Animal Health Organization, and Food and Agriculture Organization have set 2030 as a goal to eliminate rabies globally as a cause of human death, but the costs of doing so are a substantial barrier to making this a reality.

Closeup of Jonathan Yoder.
Jonathan Yoder

“Decreasing the costs of vaccine delivery is a critical element of reaching this goal, and the new science around vaccine delivery has the potential to completely reshape feasible delivery strategies to lower costs,” Dr. Yoder said. “This research opportunity allows us to test this hypothesis, and identify what factors are most critical for promoting cost‑effective vaccine delivery.”

In order to test the decentralized community-based method of delivering vaccinations, Rabies Free Tanzania will establish training for approximately 60 livestock field officers who will be in charge of vaccinating the dogs in all of the villages within their wards. Additionally, about 240 village‑based community rabies coordinators will be trained by the program to assist the field officers by identifying community dogs that require vaccination. The program will be implemented across the Mara Region in northern Tanzania and taught by Afrique One – ASPIRE fellow and veterinarian, Dr. Ahmed Lugelo.

“These local leaders share a passion for addressing the elimination of human rabies deaths,” stated Dr. Emmanuel Swai, Chief Epidemiologist for Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development. “The communities are proud of this new and additional approach to vaccinating the primary source of rabies and we hope this programme will help to eliminate rabies across Tanzania by 2030 as planned.”

Visit the WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and Rabies Free Africa for more information.


  • Laura Lockard, Communications Director, WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health,, mobile and WhatsApp +1‑206‑861‑6884

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