One Health in action in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan dog population and rabies management show One Health in action. For 17 years, the government of Sri Lanka adopted a policy of mass slaughter (‘elimination’) as a means of controlling the stray dog population with the objective of curtailing outbreaks of rabies in humans in Colombo.  The policy failed to achieve its objective while severely compromising the welfare of stray dogs in the city.

However, a project run by Sri Lankan NGO, The Blue Paw Trust, founded by Dr Nalinika Obeyeskere, a former president of the WSAVA association member – Sri Lanka Companion Animal Practitioners (SCAP)  – and focused around a ‘no slaughter’ policy -  has, in fewer than six years exceeded expectations, achieving a significant reduction in both the dog population and human rabies outbreaks.  It’s a fantastic example of the expertise veterinarians can bring to solving One Health related challenges in a way which takes into account both human and animal welfare.


Photo: Track records chart 1900 to 2012.

Project goals

The Blue Paw Trust ran its project in collaboration with the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

It aimed to:

  • implement a sterilization, rabies vaccination and registration program of owned and roaming dogs  in collaboration with the CMC where owners delivering their dogs to the vet rather than dog catching is the basis on which a culture of responsible pet ownership can be built
  • support humane improvements to the CMC dog pound and its operation and reviewing the dog registration system

Dr Ganga de Silva, President of SCAP, explains: 

“We saw a real opportunity to reduce dog bites and the incidence of human rabies and to improve local dog welfare.  We also wanted to move towards achieving an environment of responsible dog ownership, a sustainable dog population and rabies control.”

The project team used a variety of approaches to meet its goal:

  • the vaccination of roaming and owned dogs
  • the sterilization of female roaming and owned dogs
  • the education of school children and adults on bite prevention; rabies awareness and responsible dog ownership
  • the creation of ‘dog managed zones’, an innovative program providing tailored solutions to minimize conflict between the public and dogs in high risk areas, such as hospitals and schools
  • the training of CMC staff in humane dog handling, catching and veterinary techniques.


A real success story

Now, as it reaches a conclusion, the results are stunning:

  • the annual average number of dog rabies cases number was 3 in 2012.  It had been 35 cases on average between 1992 and 2007
  • the percentage of community pups was 1% in 2012. It had been 11% in 2007
  • the percentage of community lactating females has again been reduced to 1% from 9% during the five years
  • the average body condition score among roaming dogs has increased from 75% to 95% during the five years
  • the average skin condition score among roaming dogs has increased from 55% to 85% during the five years
  • the dog population, which was increasing at a rate of 18% in 2007, is now decreasing at a rate of 9%


Dr Ganga de Silva concludes: 

“At the moment millions of dogs are killed around the world and 55,000 humans die of rabies annually.  Over the last five years our project has produced excellent results and we hope to make Colombo free of rabies in 2014 – possibly even in 2013. We want the world to be aware that it is possible to control a dog population and rabies infection humanely and even to improve standards of animal welfare.  Our project, which is based on International Coalition for Animal Management (ICAM) protocols, has been successfully field tested and can be a model for Asia and other similar countries in Africa and South America.  We hope that other WSAVA member associations will consider this approach.

Meanwhile, we’re now looking for funding to continue the Blue Paw Trust’s work as the generous support we’ve received from WSPA ends in December 2012.  We want to extend our work to the whole of Sri Lanka country but are in desperate need of financial support.If you can help, please contact me at”


Praise for WSAVA

Professor Michael Day, Chairman of the WSAVA’s One Health Committee, adds: 

“The control of canine rabies virus infection is an enormous challenge in countries endemic with the disease and the elimination of this globally significant pathogen is now a target of the WSAVA One Health Committee.  It is scientifically proven that mass vaccination campaigns are more effective than the capture and destruction of stray dogs.  The Blue Paw Trust project is an excellent example of a programme that has really worked."


We talk about zoonosis and the potential threat to humans but, at the same time, the way in which we interact and treat animals is a symbol of our approach to life.  Accepting mass slaughter as a means to control our problems instills a nonchalant attitude towards killing animals in our society.  What’s worse is that it doesn’t even work.  A project such as this, which takes into account animal welfare, demonstrates a holistic attitude towards all forms of life, creating a more compassionate society - something the world needs. This really is One Health in action!”













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