Liverpool University student wins veterinary award for rabies prevention project

Dr Maurice Karani, who is from Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently studying for his PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology and One Health at the University of Liverpool, and a graduate fellow at the BMZ funded One Health Centre in Africa led by the International Livestock Research Institute, has become the latest recipient of the Postgraduate Student Inspiration Award, as part of the 2023 International Canine Health Awards, for his dedication to changing how remote communities tackle the threat of rabies.

Maurice has a deeply personal passion for his work having grown up exposed to poverty and disease in a remote area on the slopes of Mount Kenya, and at a young age suffered from cerebral malaria which left him in a coma. Now fully recovered, but having seen the devastating impact disease can have on a community first-hand, he was determined to increase access to education and knowledge among marginalised communities.

Maurice’s current studies are focussed on collecting data that will demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of investing in rabies control for those at the greatest risk of suffering from the fatal, but preventable, viral disease that affects canines and humans alike. 

He completed his undergraduate veterinary degree at the University of Nairobi before taking a Master's degree in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of London. He has nine years of experience working on infections zoonotic diseases in Kenya across projects collaborating with government institutions and communities collecting data and sharing study results.

Maurice is planning to use the award prize money to work on a project alongside community health workers to raise awareness of rabies and implement preventative strategies to control this deadly disease using educational campaigns. Through interactive education sessions, the project will create and share videos, guidelines, training and specific modules on responsible dog ownership to further manage the spread. The effectiveness of these sessions will be monitored on an ongoing basis through pre and post training surveys. 

The project will also improve surveillance of rabies through encouraging reporting of cases (in dogs and humans) and developing the current systems to better track the incidence and spread in study areas and making the process more efficient.

Additionally, Maurice wants to engage the wider rural community by setting up community meetings and workshops to share results from the studies and provide guidelines on what rabies is and how to prevent its spread. Through increased education and awareness, he intends to boost vaccinations in dogs as a further aid in breaking the transmission cycle.

On being told he had won the award, Maurice said: “I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have been selected as the recipient of this prestigious award! It is a true testament to my life’s passion to improve canine health while embracing the transformative One Health approach.

“Winning this award further motivates me to continue my efforts and make a meaningful difference in the field. I am so grateful for the recognition and the opportunities it will bring.”

Running for over ten years, the International Canine Health Awards are the largest awards in the veterinary field worldwide, inspiring scientific innovation and recognising excellence in canine research, health and welfare. Organised and run by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, and with a major financial gift from Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank and the Vernon and Shirley Hill Foundation, the 2023 awards aim to make a truly global impact – with prize money more than doubled from 2022 and an increased focus on funding projects focussed on the One Health concept and those committed to advancing canine medicine in developing nations.

Applications for the awards are judged by a panel of independent and eminent international veterinarians and scientists. The awards will be presented via a virtual ceremony on Wednesday 12 July, 15:00 BST, with further details available to those who register their interest here.

This year, the International Canine Health Awards created a Special Award category to recognise the work of three extraordinary veterinary clinics in war-torn Ukraine, and each will receive a $20,000 prize fund to support their work. In addition, five individual winners have been selected in the following categories: the Alan Kelly International Award with a prize of $100,000; the Lifetime Achievement Award with a prize of $50,000; the two Student Inspiration Awards, undergraduate and postgraduate with a prize of $20,000 for the postgraduate and $10,000 for the undergraduate winners; and The Kennel Club’s Breed Health Co-ordinator Prize – the winner of which receives £5,000.

Dr Andrew Higgins, Chairman of the International Canine Health Awards panel and trustee of The Kennel Club Charitable Trust which organises the awards, said: “Dr Maurice Karani’s personal story and passion for tackling rabies in remote communities is incredibly inspiring and his commitment and dedication really stood out to the panel which felt his work was truly One Health in action. Rabies is a dreadful disease that impacts both humans and dogs so work like Maurice’s is invaluable in developing better means of prevention and control.”

Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank, and whose major gift from the Vernon and Shirley Hill Foundation underwrites the awards, said: “Many congratulations to Dr Karani on being chosen for this prestigious award. The motivation he shows to dedicating his time and research to helping struggling communities is extremely admirable. I look forward to hearing the results of the project in the ongoing global battle against rabies.” 

Find out about the International Canine Health Awards.