Rabies is efficiently controlled through mass vaccination of dogs. In an area of South Africa where free vaccination campaigns were implemented following rabies re-emergence, the required 70% vaccination coverage was challenging to reach. Understanding the factors affecting the efficiency of mass vaccination is helpful in guiding long-term rabies control efforts. This study aimed to assess the communities' knowledge and perceptions of dogs, rabies and the related risk, and control behaviors in a rural rabies-endemic interface area. Combined with informal discussions and participative observations, we organized 18 focus group discussions with men, women, and children - stratified by dog ownership status - in three villages in the Mnisi community in the Mpumalanga Province in north-east South Africa. This community highly valued hunting dogs despite hunting of wildlife being illegal. Although people did not have a clear idea of how dogs acquire rabies, they were aware of the presence of the disease and its zoonotic nature. A dog bite was always associated with rabies risk but was also a source of conflict between dog owners and bite victims, hampering bite health care management. Dog vaccination was perceived as a means to prevent diseases from spreading to humans and other animals, not only to protect dogs from diseases but also to cure disease. Lack of awareness, misinterpretation of health promotion messages, and specific beliefs among adults seemed to hinder participation in rabies vaccination campaigns. Involving and educating staff from clinics and wildlife reserves during vaccination campaigns would tackle rumors, clarify dog bite and dog vaccination procedures, and improve the relationship among stakeholders. Further anthropological studies, focusing on people owning dogs for hunting, may provide a better understanding of rabies transmission patterns and risk factors in this community.
- animal interaction
- South Africa