News

2021 World Rabies Day Initiative for Remote Indigenous Communities in Canada

September 28, 2021

The Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI) is pleased to announce the launch of its 2021 World Rabies Day Initiative for Remote Indigenous Communities in Canada.  This initiative aims to improve both animal health and public health in these communities by supporting increased access to canine rabies vaccinations in areas where veterinary services are not readily available.  

Indigenous communities and their animals in northern remote regions of Canada are at high risk of exposure to rabies, and elimination of the virus through vaccination of wildlife is not feasible.  Rapidly accelerating impacts of climate change in the north are further increasing that risk by changing wildlife population dynamics and home ranges of rabies reservoir species like foxes and skunks. The rabies virus circulates freely in Arctic fox and red fox populations, and dog overpopulation in Indigenous communities in these regions compounds the problem. Roaming dogs are regularly exposed to potentially rabid wildlife, causing a serious animal and human health risk.

Access to rabies vaccinations for dogs is the cornerstone of rabies prevention and control around the world

Yet for decades Canada’s remote Indigenous communities have faced significant challenges with accessing this basic prevention tool.  Despite the existence of a regulatory exemption that allows vaccine manufacturers to sell rabies vaccines directly to remote communities, few are aware of this exemption, and fewer still have ever accessed it.  CAHI has set out to change that.  “Access to basic animal health care, including rabies vaccinations, is important to ensuring public health and safety in all communities, but especially in our remote Indigenous communities.  As the collective voice of the animal health industry, CAHI is committed to working with our Indigenous communities to find sustainable solutions which will allow them to manage rabies prevention in their dog populations by themselves, for themselves.  This is our industry’s initial step towards supporting reconciliation in Canada.” said Dr. Catherine Filejski, CAHI President and CEO.

To begin tackling this problem leading up to World Rabies Day 2021, CAHI teamed up with the Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to clarify the process of applying for an exemption. CAHI then partnered with the Manitoba Animal Alliance, which works directly with remote Indigenous communities on developing sustainable dog population management programs on reserves, to pilot the first-ever direct purchase of rabies vaccines by an Indigenous community in Canada.

As result, Cross Lake Band of Indians, a remote Cree Nation community of 7,000 people in northern Manitoba with about 2,600 dogs, became Canada’s first Indigenous community to purchase rabies vaccines for their dogs directly from a vaccine manufacturer.  The shipment of Defensor 3 Rabies Vaccines from Zoetis, a CAHI member company, arrived in the community on September 7, 2021, and despite significant challenges due to COVID-19 and other high priority community issues, a rabies vaccination clinic for Cross Lake dogs was held on September 8th, with more clinics planned. 

Helga Hamilton, Health Director for Cross Lake Band of Indians, explained why the ability to purchase and administer canine rabies vaccines independently is so important to the community: “We love our furbabies just as much as mainstream Canadians do, they are a part of our families too.  But we don’t have the same access to healthcare that the rest of the country does.  We don’t have a veterinarian here; sometimes we don’t even have a doctor, and I can’t imagine having to shoot my own dog Max if he were bitten by a rabid skunk.  A simple vaccine can prevent that, and now we can get vaccines for all our dogs without having to rely on anyone else.  This makes our community safer and healthier.  It changes everything.”  

Indigenous communities value their dogs and want to be able to keep them healthy and safe without constantly being dependent on outside help.  On World Rabies Day 2021, CAHI encourages Canada’s remote Indigenous communities to learn more about how they can access rabies vaccines for the dogs in their community and to contact us for more information on how we can assist.   Additional details about this initiative will also be shared during a free World Rabies Day webinar being hosted later today by CAHI and Vets Without Borders Canada from 11:00 – 12:30 EDT.  For webinar information and registration, see https://cahi-icsa.ca/world-rabies-day-canada