One Health, rabies prevention and more-than-human considerations in Indigenous communities in Northern Australia

Dr Chris Degeling1, A/Prof  Tess Lea3, Dr Victoria  Brookes4, Prof  Michael Ward4

1Research For Social Change, Faculty of Social Science, University of Wollongong, Australia, 2Sydney Health Ethics, University of Sydney , Australia , 3Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Dept. of Gender and Cultural Studies , University of Sydney , Australia , 4School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney , Australia

The spread of rabies in eastern Indonesia poses a risk to northern Australia.  Dogs are numerous in East Arnhem Land (EAL) and the Northern Peninsular Area (NPA), usually unrestrained and living in close human-dog relationships. The response to any rabies outbreak on Australian territory will focus on dog vaccination, controlling dog movements and depopulation. A One Health approach to zoonotic diseases should seek to co-promote human and animal health, whilst also seeking to accommodate the preferences of affected communities. We report on 4 community panels/workshops and >40 semi-structured interviews conducted with: (i) EAL and NPA community members; (ii) Indigenous Rangers in EAL and NPA; and (iii) residents of Cairns, the local regional centre. We used storyboard methodologies to work with participants to explore the following questions:

  1. What do people who live in EAL, the NPA and Cairns think should and should not be done if a rabies incursion was to occur?
  2. How should the interests of individuals, communities, and nonhuman animals be accommodated in such a response?
  3. What are the roles and responsibilities of dog owners and other community members in the event of a rabies incursion?

Australia is currently rabies free; therefore, the results of this study can inform control strategies that are more in keeping with community values. We found that the capacity of community members in the NPA and EAL to contribute and/or adapt to a biosecurity response is likely to be limited by material disadvantage, dominant cultural norms and food security concerns. Responsible ownership means different things within and across the study settings; the cultural value placed on dogs/dingoes is variable and conditional. Adopting a ‘strengths-based’ approach mandates that the communities at greatest risk need to be helped to prepare for and develop strategies to manage a biosecurity response to a rabies incursion.


Chris is a health social scientist, philosopher, and practicing veterinarian who works in the social studies and ethics of public health. At the completion of his PhD (2009) he undertook a further 18 months training in qualitative research methods and population health intervention cross-appointed to the O’Brien Institute of Public Health and Veterinary Faculty at the University of Calgary, Canada. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Research for Social Change at the University of Wollongong where he leads the NHMRC funded project: Can One Health strategies be more effectively implemented through prior identification of public values?

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