Yesterday they told us we were going to spend the afternoon traveling the village giving vaccinations. Pitirishca is a rural jungle village and most life there moves at a steady, amiable rate. People casually amble into the Subcentro de Salud when they have a problem and tend to stay home when a big rain comes. For this reason, community visits and checkups seemed like a great idea. How do you keep tabs on the health of a population if you only have intermittent and irregular contact?
My assumptions betrayed my naivety. We were in fact keeping tabs on a population...just not the species I expected. It turns out "vaccinations" meant "rabies vaccinations", and the Pitirishca nurse was setting out to vaccinate all the local dogs with myself and another CFHI volunteer in tow. Walking from house to house with a chorus of "Buenos Días" at each, we'd ask owners to gather their dogs and cats and then hold them down for shots. In addition, one person would document the incident with name, date and age of the animals and owners, as well as present a certificate recording this year's vaccinations. As you might imagine, watching white coat-wearing medical students inject dogs and cats was quite a comical sight (we rotated regularly to give everyone an opportunity).
While animal enthusiasts will likely be pleased to hear of all the animals we helped, it's important to remember that humans were the target benefactors in the exchange. Rabies remains the most universally fatal infectious disease on the planet, and animal vaccination plans are the primary reason incidence has declined as much as it has (only one person has ever survived the disease once it progressed to symptoms, and not without extraordinary intervention and severe neurological damage). Like in much of Ecuador, there can be hundreds of dogs in a community, some stray...some not, and the damage from a rabies outbreak could be enormous (the jungle exacerbates those risks, as most mammals are capable of being infected and spreading the virus). Think about that next time you look into the face of buried rage...and always vaccinate your animals.