Our work in Todos Santos, Guatemala

Guatemala is a very low-income country, where the primary struggles are poverty, neonatal mortality, malnutrition in children, and human cases of canine rabies.To assist with this last point, VWB/VSF became involved in 2008 with the small town of Todos Santos in the north western highlands. Canine rabies is highly prevalent in Guatemala, where national resources to combat the widespread effects of this fatal disease are few. In Todos Santos, community members reported fear of walking the streets because of the large number of FRDs and the high frequency of attacks on people, some resulting in human rabies cases. There are no veterinary services available in the town, and the closest service 3-4 hours away. As an emergency measure to mitigate the pressing local public health issue, VWB/VSF has been sending Canadian veterinarians to sterilize dogs. While on these visits, the team conducts a series of surveys to gain baseline information on community beliefs, attitudes and behaviours toward dogs, as well as demographic information on the dogs themselves, including multiple dog counts. The objective of the most recent visit to Todos Santos, in November 2011, was to evaluate the current situation with respect to FRD status in the town, cases of rabies in dogs and humans, and to obtain community recommendations for next steps. Feedback obtained by the community was very positive and suggested that inhabitants were less fearful of the FRDs. Data from the municipality showed that there had been no cases of rabies in the previous two years. However, in the outlying agricultural area in which 23,000 people reside, cases continue. Following a meeting with the leaders from these areas, we were informed that although rabies is indeed an issue, and three people had died from canine rabies a few months earlier, the most pressing concern is to put food on the table. Five children had died the previous winter from starvation.