Succumbed: Clementia Chaphiya Cele, 52, a mother of four, died after being bitten by rabid dogs. Picture: LELETHU MANENTSA
A three-year-old boy from Umlazi was close to becoming the fourth victim of rabies in the province following an outbreak of the disease that has killed three people in the past month.
The toddler has been at the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital for the past two weeks and, according to the department of environmental affairs, is showing signs of recovery.
“We have been in contact with his mother since he was admitted to hospital and she says there are improvements. He can now sit and has started swallowing liquids. He also responds when she calls his name but he still cannot speak properly,” said department spokesperson Jeffrey Zikhali.
On Friday, the first reported victim of rabies in the province, Graeme Anderson, died after five weeks in a critical condition.
The 29-year-old farmer and well-known canoeist’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he was pronounced brain dead, forcing his family to agree that he be taken off life-support machines.
The Anderson’s family spokesperson, Dr Grant Lindsey, said a decision on the funeral or memorial service had not yet been made.
“Right now everybody is gathered here at the farm – family, friends and neighbours. His mother had been there for him from the time he was admitted in hospital; she never left him. The whole family is devastated right now,” he said.
Lindsey went on to say that if anything, Anderson’s case had raised awareness and created a massive campaign against rabies, attracting attention from the World Health Organisation and the government departments.
Anderson was bitten by a stray dog he had picked up on the road and adopted.
Last month, eight-year-old Sinethemba Hlongwane was buried at his home in eMaswazini, Bergville. He was the second to die of rabies after a 52-year-old mother of four died a week earlier. They had both been bitten by dogs.
Both funerals were attended by agriculture MEC Meshack Radebe.
Last week, Radebe launched a R1m roll-out strategy in a bid to prevent new infections.
“We are embarking on radio, television and newspaper campaigns to run adverts, alerting our people about rabies. Just for this massive media awareness campaign, the department will be spending almost R1m. Lives are worth more,” said Radebe at the launch in Durban on Thursday.
He went on to say there should be a way of “marking” all vaccinated dogs and cats, so if one decided to play with a pet, they would know if it had been vaccinated or not.
“We are also working together with the department of education, which has agreed to let children go home and collect pets on vaccination days in their communities. We are also in talks with municipalities and metros in the province to get more manpower to help with more vaccinations and also take the message to grassroots level.”