Monday, February 14, 2011

Peru, Rabies, and the Cultural Barriers to Vaccination

February 14, 2011

In a rabies outbreak in September, five children died in Peru on the fringes of the Amazon.  Around 20 rabies deaths have been reported in the past year in Peru which is the highest for a generation.

Some of the Indigenous people of the area, the Awajun and Wampis, have had a low acceptance of vaccination in the past.  Nurses from the region reported that many times the people believe that rabies symptoms are caused by witchcraft, and so a vaccination is not appropriate to cure it.  A health worker also reported that ten years ago, they would go door-to-door vaccinating, but there was so much resistance that people would escape out the back door of their house in order to avoid vaccination.

However, some more successful campaigns against yellow fever and hepatitis B are showing that the remote communities are growing to be more receptive of vaccines.  Also, training health workers that are native and speak native languages have been more successful in health education.  These workers have targeted school, teaching kids to beware of bats.  This is particularly important because children are the most prominent victims of rabies in these regions because they rarely sleep under protective nets that parents sleep under. The death's of the five children in the last outbreak is cited as one of the main motivators for people to get vaccinated. Additionally, many argue that having nets would be a huge step in prevention efforts.

One researcher, Luis Castillo says that human pressure on the rainforest has caused the recent imbalance in the food chain causing native campire pats to have fewer natural predators. As people continue to push into pristine areas, they are also pushing into native bat's habitats.

--Lauren Platt


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