Meet the Rabies Free Africa team – Kennedy Lushasi

Kennedy Lushasi is a member of the Rabies Free Tanzania team. Kennedy is an epidemiologist who works on the Integrated Bite Case Management program. Kennedy is a doctoral student with the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Technology (one of our partners) and the Ifakara Health Institute. 

How long have you been working with Rabies Free Tanzania?

I have been working with Rabies Free Tanzania since October 2017.

What is your role in the program?

I work with Rabies Free Africa as a field epidemiologist coordinating field operations on rabies surveillance and other rabies control programs through the implementation of Integrated Bite Case Management (IBCM). I coordinate, oversee, and implement training programs to health workers and livestock field workers/veterinarians on IBCM. Specifically, I train health workers on how to differentiate between a suspected rabid animal following the standardized World Health Organization guidelines for probable/suspected animals and veterinarians or livestock field officers on how to carry out animal/epidemiological investigations. I also train them on how to report bite and animal rabies cases through the enhanced electronic IBCM surveillance system we have established across the study sites. I am actively involved in carrying out surveillance activities, including collection of tissue samples from dead animals reported at community level for laboratory diagnosis and confirmation. I work very closely with community members in conducting and identifying rabies cases through contact tracing.

Why is it important to you to work toward eliminating rabies?

It’s important to me, and I think all of us, to work toward eliminating rabies. This is a disease of poverty. The costs of preventing rabies in humans is very high as few people can afford the treatment, but very cheap and easy to eliminate in dog populations, which have been identified as the main source of infection to humans. In addition, rabies has no treatment once someone develops the symptoms. He or she eventually dies in a short period. I am not interested in seeing people die due to rabies or someone spend a lot of money buying costly post-exposure prophylaxes. Rabies also causes psychological and mental issues to the affected families. To end these issues, we need to get rid of rabies the same way polio was eliminated.

Can you see the program having an impact?

Yes, this program has brought very positive impacts to the societies and even to the nation of Tanzania at large. Through the ongoing mass dog vaccinations, there has been a reduction in the number of suspected animal rabies cases and human bite victims. The cost of treating bite victims has also gone down because bite victims are receiving post exposures prophylaxes based on the suspected criteria for rabid animals. IBCM has increased the level of awareness among human health workers on rabies and on how to perform the risk assessments, but also improved the animal investigations of suspected cases among veterinarians. This has resulted in an increase in the number of cases and human exposures being reported from each sector, increasing the accuracy of the assessment of the disease burden in the communities. The other notable impact of this program is how it has helped to strengthen the collaboration and linkage between health and veterinary workers. These two sectors are now working in a very collaborative way for any case related to rabies and at times joint decisions are reached before someone is administered anti-rabies vaccines.

What do you do when you aren’t fighting rabies?

I love to spend my free time with my family. Playing and laughing with the two little kids is something I miss when I am in the field. Staying with them, exchanging ideas, teaching each other new things, and enjoying the little moments together strengthens our ties, bonds and multiplies the love we have for each other, and this is what makes me happy all the time!