Effectiveness of the ʼRed Collarʼ rabies vaccination campaign

Hiby, E., & Tasker, L. (2018). Qualitative Evaluation of the Five-Year ‘Red Collar’ Campaign to End Inhumane Culling of Dogs as a Method of Rabies Control. Veterinary sciences, 5(1), 18.

This report shows the findings of a qualitative evaluation on the effectiveness of the ʼRed Collarʼ rabies vaccination campaign in removing rabies as an excuse for inhumane culling of dogs worldwide. Using participatory approaches, the study found stakeholders perception of changes that had occurred during the 5-year campaign. It was concluded that the campaign had successfully generated momentum for implementation of mass dog vaccination by the targeted governments. Nevertheless, the evaluation also exposed various learning points, that were developed into recommendations for improving campaign effectiveness in the future. Therefore, it is foreseen that, together with further recommendations aimed at a wider audience, it will be possible to promote dog welfare worldwide as well as humanely and effectively reduce the burden of dog-mediated rabies on human communities.

Domestic dogs are globally distributed and their establishment is directly linked to the presence of humans. This long-lasting inter-species relationship can lead to zoonotic infections in humans. The rabies virus is the cause of one of the oldest, deadliest, and most feared of these zoonotic infections from dogs, and responsible for around 59,000 human deaths around the world each year. Therefore, in countries where rabies is endemic, culling is of common practice as a government response to reduce dog numbers. However, this reduction in dog’s numbers has no evidence-based impact on the control of rabies, and the culling methods used are often inadequate and inhumane.

Using pilot projects in key countries, World Animal Protection conducted the ‘Red Collar’ global campaign for over 5 years. The campaign was set up with the objective of a mass dog vaccination without culling, and aimed at generating momentum for governments to adopt humane, effective and sustainable control of dog-mediated rabies. To perceive if the campaign had met its goals a qualitative assessment was performed following the conclusion of this campaign (World Rabies Day 2016).

Pilot projects have demonstrated that canine rabies can feasibly be eliminated through annual vaccination.

The evaluation process (November 2016 to April 2017) reviewed all regional activities that occurred between World Rabies Day 2011 to 2016 in the World Animal Protection Asia-Pacific and Africa divisions. The campaign opted to work with countries or districts with a history of inhumane culling for rabies control. Participatory approaches captured the perception of stakeholder representatives (n = 54) of changes that had occurred during the five-year campaign period, and where it was reasonable to attribute some of these changes to the ‘Red Collar’ campaign.

All targeted countries and districts reported evident achievements. Nevertheless, they also indicated both positive and potentially weak aspects of the campaign. Namely, it was noted that pilot projects are effective but require a longer timeframe to establish sustainable changes in both policy and practice. Stakeholders also acknowledged that the ‘Red Collar’ campaign message was absence prior to the campaign and that the implementation of a mass dog vaccination programme was poorly understood before the campaign started. The benefit of a more detailed exploration of the drivers of culling during the campaign outset was also noted. Moreover, the ‘Ripple Effect’ theory of change was not disproven but the time required to eventually inspire and prompt replication into other countries is in excess of five years.

Campaigning organizations such as World Animal Protection can play a significant role in changing policy and practices that affect animal welfare worldwide. Humane rabies control requires a change in in-country policy, capacity, practice and funding. Therefore, making the exit period at least equal in length to the full engagement period, if not longer, should be considered in future campaigns. Moreover, there is also the need for an investment in scientific support to ensure robustness of data and analysis in order for future campaigns to establish sound monitoring and evaluation plans.

World Animal Protection’s view

We believe that the outcome of campaigns like the ‘Red Collar’ can help to improve the political and practical impact of future campaigns aimed at promoting and increasing dog welfare worldwide, as well as humanely and effectively create conditions to reduce the burden of dog-mediated rabies on human communities.