Meet the Rabies Free Africa team: Joel Changalucha

Joel Changalucha in Tanzania at a mass rabies vaccination for dogs event.
Joel Changalucha is a PhD student working on his research with Rabies Free Tanzania.

Meet Joel Changalucha, a PhD student working on his research with Rabies Free Tanzania

What is your role in the program?

I am a PhD student in the program with the objective of overseeing the economic aspect of the program in relation to its public health outcome. However, to enable the smooth implementation of the program I am attached to Ifakara Health Institute (our important collaborator) in managing the vaccination teams assigned to implement program activities. Apart from ensuring the vaccination teams are adhering to the ethical standards of the program, I am responsible for ensuring the vaccination teams are contracted to the institute and receive their prescribed stipends that enable them to reach out to all dogs in their localities for vaccination.

Why is it important to eliminate rabies?

Rabies kills more than 1,500 people in Tanzania each year, most of them being children under the age of 15 years. This is indeed the scariest number when you think of the accompanying horrifying neurological symptoms that leave the involved families psychologically traumatized. In addition, the consequence of the disease is severe among poor families living in rural communities who have little access to health care services and the direct and indirect costs of accessing the life-saving human post-exposure vaccine is very high for them.

Have you known anyone who has died from rabies?

Before getting involved with research activities I worked as a clinician in the public health facilities of Tanzania where I came across one patient who died from rabies at my clinic. This year marks 12 years since I started working with rabies surveillance activities in different parts of the country. My roles in the previous surveillance activities exposed me to health workers who used to inform me of different cases of people who were bitten by rabid animals and later developed human rabies only because they had delayed accessing preventive human vaccines.

Can you see the program having an impact?

Mass dog vaccination is an important intervention for controlling rabies from its source, and previous interventions involving mass dog vaccination (even in Tanzania) have shown a huge impact in controlling rabies. The design of this program ensures success because it reaches more dogs than the previous vaccination strategies where results showed several pouches of unvaccinated dogs in remote communities contributed to the incursion of rabies. 

What do you do when you are not fighting rabies?

I live in Dar es salaam, a region located in the eastern part of Tanzania, with my family (a wife and two children). However, for the past one and half years I have been spending at least six months a year in the Mara region to support the rabies elimination program and collect data for the program analysis. Working away from home for most of the time has made me spend much of my time with my family. Mind you, the program region is over 1,000 km from home, which makes staying with the family an easy choice over others. Otherwise, I am a huge admirer of farming activities, which consumes my remaining time away from rabies and family affairs.