Clinical nutrition resident Lauren Dodd volunteers with Mission Rabies in Malawi

Lauren Dodd (back row, second from right) poses with other members of the Brief Media volunteer team. Learn more about their work in Malawi on the team's Mission Rabies blog.

Saving human lives isn’t always in a veterinarian’s job description, but Lauren Dodd of Sugar Land, Texas, resident of clinical nutrition in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and master’s candidate in the Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences Graduate Program and Public Health Program, has been doing just that through her work with Mission Rabies in Blantyre, Malawi.

Local residents line up with their dogs at a vaccination clinic.

Based out of the United Kingdom, Mission Rabies is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving both human and animal lives by eliminating rabies by 2030. “Every year people die from rabies. In some locations, healthy dogs are inhumanely killed to try and alleviate the problem, however, the disease still persists. Most human cases are due to infected dog bites. If the canine population is vaccinated this has been shown to alleviate the problem, thereby saving human and canine lives,” explained Dodd, who first became interested in international work when she joined the International Veterinary Students’ Association (IVSA) in veterinary college. “I went to the IVSA symposium in South Africa, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of veterinary medicine.”

Mission Rabies launched its first campaign in India in 2013 and has since conducted clinics in Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi. Blantyre, Malawi was selected because “it is a hotspot for rabies,” explained Dodd. “At one point, the highest number of child rabies cases in Africa was reported from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre.”

The first campaign in Blantyre vaccinated more than 35,000 dogs in 20 working days . Rabies is responsible for killing an estimated 61,000 people annually, with 99 percent of all human cases caused by dog bites. In the United States, there are only one to three reported cases of human rabies per year, though a Virginia woman recently passed away from the virus after being exposed to a rabid dog while traveling in India.
 

Jessie Foley, a Brief Media employee and veterinary nurse, vaccinates a dog.

On her trip, Dodd, who applied for the campaign through Clinician’s Brief, a Brief Media journal for veterinarians, participated in the second block of a month-long drive. Brief Media volunteers were sponsored by Merial, now part of Boehringer Ingelheim. “With the help of local staff and a team of international volunteers, we vaccinated thousands of dogs in two weeks,” said Dodd. “We set up vaccination clinics at local churches and schools where people brought their animals from all over the city and rural areas. On days we were not vaccinating at static stations, we were walking door to door asking if dogs have been vaccinated. I vaccinated dogs, cats, and even a monkey.”
 

A local dog shows off the temporary mark on his head, which is applied to show proof of vaccination. The mark lasts five to seven days.

Combined, the two vaccine drives successfully vaccinated 34,078 dogs, educated 137,635 children in 53 schools about rabies prevention, and facilitated lessons on rabies for 3,086 teachers. Volunteers used the Mission Rabies app to record and track data about the number and status of vaccinated dogs in each area. “This was an amazing One Health and cultural experience that I will not soon forget,” Dodd said.

Dodd received her bachelor’s degree from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2009 before earning her DVM from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama in 2014. She served as a rotating small animal medicine intern in Albuquerque, New Mexico before joining the veterinary college as a resident in 2016. Dodd holds professional memberships in the Comparative Nutrition Society and American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She has research interests in feline obesity and is currently helping facilitate a clinical study on the effect of a personalized weight loss plan on owner-perceived cat quality of life. In the future, Dodd would like to bring “One Health, international medicine, and nutrition all together,” through a job with USAID or the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

For more information on volunteering for Mission Rabies, contact enquiries@missionrabies.com or visit www.missionrabies.com, or contact Brief Media at volunteers@briefmedia.com or visit www.cliniciansbrief.com/mission-rabies.