Making Mumbai rabies-free - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Making Mumbai rabies-free

Three veterinary professionals share their experiences of volunteering for a rabies drive in India’s most densely populated city, Mumbai

Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) is an international veterinary charity based in the UK, which, in 2013, launched “Mission Rabies”, a project with the aim to eliminate canine-mediated human rabies deaths. Following World Health Organization guidelines, the charity runs mass canine rabies vaccination and community education in the world’s worst hotspots for the disease.

More than 3 million dogs have been vaccinated and over 7 million children have been educated on rabies prevention since the project began. As 99 percent of all human rabies deaths are the result of an infected dog bite, the charity’s vaccination projects aim to vaccinate 70 percent of any given dog population: the coverage needed to eliminate the disease in dogs and prevent human deaths.

One of the charity’s most recent projects was a mass vaccination drive in India’s most densely populated city, Mumbai. The campaign, which ran from Monday 26 February to Friday 1 March 2024, focused on the vaccination of free-roaming dogs to stop the spread of the disease, which causes approximately 20,000 human deaths in India each year. This project was spearheaded by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in partnership with Mission Rabies and marked the beginning of an annual mass dog vaccination project in the city.

During the campaign, rabies vaccinations were administered to 26,951 dogs across Mumbai and the surrounding areas.A total of 60 teams administered the vaccines across designated areas, recording the vaccination location and information about each dog in the charity’s bespoke data collection app. The rabies vaccination drive was supported by several local non-profit organisations as well as volunteers from India and around the world, all coming together to fight the world’s deadliest disease.  

In this article, you’ll hear from veterinary volunteers Liz Seaman, Dr Cornelie Kennedy and Dr Anke Schütz, who discuss their experiences of contributing to rabies control in India.

Liz Seaman, vet nurse from the UK

“There is something poignant about being part of something that can make a life-or-death difference to dogs and, subsequently, humans, and yet [it’s all] slightly bananas! Having been privileged to be part of a [few] Mission Rabies projects, I hadn’t been on a vaccine drive for a few years – COVID-19 and ‘adulting’ sadly took over. Mumbai was an amazing refresher! It was energising, feeling part of a bigger, brighter (very yellow) cause.

“All projects and places are unique, but Mumbai was distinct for a few reasons. The variability was huge, from gated houses and affluent apartments to sprawling warehouses, dense workshops, compact and crowded slums, plus everything in between. Friendly and curious people were a commonality everywhere, though. Frenetic, hot, sticky, scented and intense – it’s an amazing way to see a city and definitely a twist from a marbled, air-conditioned, tourist view.

“There were even differences in dog handling to other locations – a combination of owned, stray and something (or rather some people) I had not previously encountered, feeders: individuals motivated to try to help area dogs. Some had amazing local canine knowledge. One lady escorted Tigers B (our team) to over 60 dogs, telling us about the medication she bought for their care. She basically lined up patients for us! Others were less able to cajole the dogs, and some [were] even nervous but still keen to protect the dogs.

“Sanskar, [the] vet student in our team, lives just a few hours away and knew Mumbai from studying and living there as a child. Otherwise, it was a little different in that none of the team members were familiar with the city. On other projects, I’ve been lucky to meet team members’ families and visit their homes. AJ is from Goa, Bittu from Jharkhand and Taryn and I are from a little further off. Possibly no one knew the whole sprawl, though we did try to cover every alley in our sections!

“While it’s a strange way to meet people, it’s also intense, interesting and engaging. The team was hardworking and fun. AJ and Bittu did seem shocked, however, that Taryn knew all the words to the Bieber songs on not-TikTok (TikTok is prohibited, but video streaming is daily entertainment). Who knew our team’s numbers would absolutely and unequivocally depend on Sanskar wearing his lucky shoes?! Or that I would be vaccinating dogs with a Skylord (Bittu is VERY proud of his Instagram) on a tin roof looking over Mumbai. OK, so maybe I didn’t quite climb on the roof – I would have fallen through – but, as usual, the team was amazing and vaccinated as many dogs as possible, although some escapees did taunt us from precarious places.

“While there were hot hikes, frustrating days and 15 minutes of washing a bite or scratch (which really felt like forever), I would join again in a heartbeat. Every vaccine edged a huge volume of people to (and over) the target and hopefully made a huge push to rabies-free Mumbai: more cities, more protection, meeting many more interesting people with lots and lots more dog vaccines!”

Dr Anke Schütz, veterinarian from Germany

“It was my second trip with Mission Rabies and, again, it was a great experience. We were a group of vets and vet nurses from around the world and everybody was full of enthusiasm and highly motivated.

The whole project was very well organised; Mission Rabies and the local partners worked closely together. Every morning, we got a brief introduction, and a designated area to go to. We were together with two really good team members: an Indian catcher and a vet student who knew the language of the people.

“The people in the slums were so thankful for the work we did, and we had a lot of wonderful encounters with so many different people. The dogs were often shy, so we had to use nets sometimes, but there was little aggression. Even though it was sometimes tiring, and the heat, crowds and noise were a lot, it was so fulfilling.

“In the end, we vaccinated 26,951 dogs. We made a difference! For me, it is travelling with a purpose, and I enjoyed every bit of it. It will not be my last trip.”

Dr Cornelie Kennedy, veterinarian from the UK

“When I graduated 20 years ago, I loved the opportunity that our profession gave me to combine my love of travel with working with animals. Time passed – my three children having gained a little more independence and my practice reasonably stable – and I had come to a point in my life where I wanted to give something back.

“The cause itself endeared me to the Mission Rabies project. As an experienced veterinary surgeon, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer on worthwhile programmes; however, Mission Rabies was a project that would have a lasting effect on people – in particular children and their canine companions. The project has an undeniable sense of purpose and gives you the opportunity to play an active role using your expertise to address one of the world’s biggest challenges.

“The project also allowed non-veterinary volunteers to join with data collection; this allowed my son to join me with the project and it opened up his world. As he is leaving for college, I felt this project would give a wonderful perspective and awareness of the world around him.

“It felt good to be able to help in some small way, and at the same time, it gave us the unique opportunity of seeing areas of a city that you could never visit as a tourist. Both my son and I feel that the experience of meeting the local community, who welcomed us with such warmth of spirit and visible love for their animals, even in the most difficult personal circumstances, will stay with us throughout our lives.

“As a vet, I was given the role of a vaccinator and my son that of a data collector. We were split in different teams of six which included local vet students, a local dog handler, a data collector and a vaccinator. We were assigned to mapped areas where we meticulously walked street to street vaccinating dogs. Often, we were put in contact with a local feeder who would know the local community and dogs.

“We spent the day in the field, and the teams came together at lunch and dinner. It was also lovely to meet the other volunteers – wonderful positive and motivated individuals from all over the world, students, vets and vet nurses. It gives you a new perspective from the same old routine in daily practice.

“Mission Rabies was very well organised, and as I was volunteering with my son, it gave me that reassurance that there would be support if there were any issues, which is important when volunteering, particularly in a developing nation. The core team is experienced, and the groundwork is well organised.

“As an independent practice owner, I was astounded how many clients were appreciative and supportive of the work that I had done. It sends a good message about the core values of a practice which I think are important for clients. 

“It was a wonderful enjoyable experience and I would encourage anyone to go down the route of volunteering for personal growth. My son and I had a wonderful time and a memory that will last us a lifetime.”

Final thoughts

The next mass canine rabies vaccination drive in Mumbai is planned to take place in early 2025. The charity will be recruiting volunteers in the coming months and those interested can register their interest. Mission Rabies is currently recruiting volunteers for a 2024 drive in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and further details on this project can be found online.  

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more