KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - More than 40 Afghan health professionals filled a conference room at the Asadabad Hospital to receive rabies prevention education from members of the Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agribusiness Development Team here March 9.
The educational session was part of a broad rabies control and prevention public health campaign initiated by the ADT.
Army Maj. Loren Adams, the ADT's veterinary officer and the driving force behind the rabies control effort in Kunar province.
"In the United States, health care professionals need refresher education about rabies because they hardly ever see it in people," Adams said. "Here in Afghanistan, health care professionals need this training because they lack access to information sources like the Internet, libraries and that sort of thing."
Adams said health care professionals play an important role in any rabies control and prevention program because they treat people who have been bitten by rabid animals.
"Upwards of 99 percent of human rabies cases in Afghanistan are caused by bites from rabid dogs," Adams said. "If those victims get treatment at all, it's probably going to be from one of those health care professionals we talked with today."
Asadullah Fazli, Kunar province director of public health, helped set up the training. He emphasized that rabies remains a serious public health threat throughout Kunar.
"This training is very important because there are many dogs that are not owned by anyone, many of them have rabies, and they bite the people," Fazli said. "We do not know how many people die of rabies in Kunar because we only see the cases that get taken to this hospital."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Lynn Redman, a nurse and Kunar PRT senior medical officer, led the medical portion of the training, which focused on best practices for treating bite wounds.
"I think it went very well," Redman said. "At the same time, it's a shame because they don't have access to the human vaccines necessary to properly treat a bite case. Still, it's a good start."
Educating health professionals is only one aspect of an effective rabies control and prevention program in Kunar, Adams said.
In addition, the ADT will talk to local women's groups and schools with children of all ages, as well as engage in a campaign of rabies prevention public service announcements on Kunar radio stations. Perhaps most importantly, he is working with a team of local veterinarians to vaccinate dogs in the Asadabad area against rabies.
"The key to any rabies control program is immunizing at least 70 percent of the dog population," Adams said. "The Kunar provincial veterinarian is taking the lead on this effort and he's got most of the private veterinarians around working on it, too."
Adams said the rabies control program in the Asadabad area is just the beginning and must be carried farther out in Kunar. He also stressed the importance of transferring the program entirely into the hands of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
"You know, rabies control and prevention programs are what governments do; it's an essential service," Adams said. "This is something we're helping them start, but it's something the Afghan government will have to carry on and expand."