Spring/Summer 2019 Issue

by Christie Cotterill, associate director of development and Marcia Gossard, senior writer

John and Rachel Clark are driven to prevent rabies in Africa, a disease that kills tens of thousands of children worldwide each year. So driven, in fact, for the past two years they have packed up their now 4- and 8-year-old children to host canine rabies vaccination clinics in Malawi, East Africa, where John was born and raised.

“I saw an article about Rabies Free Africa in the HuffPost featuring Dr. Guy Palmer,” says John. “I sent a note to Rachel that said, ‘This is what I want to do!’”

The WSU Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health’s Rabies Free Africa program works with partners around the world with the goal of ending human rabies by 2030. In Africa, rabies is most commonly spread to people after being bit by an infected dog.

Rachel emailed Guy Palmer, the founding director of the Allen School, to ask how she and John could help.

“To my surprise he wrote back,” says Rachel. “We set up a phone call and talked about getting more involved with the project. We kept in touch and about a year later he advised us on how to set up a small vaccine clinic in both Malawi and Zambia.”

The Clarks started small, administering 500 vaccines to local dogs in 2017. Last year the demand for their vaccination clinics grew so much that the Rabies Free Africa program gave the Clarks 15,000 doses of the vaccines (donated by Merck Animal Health) so they could vaccinate in many more villages in northern Malawi. They currently are working with the Malawi government to create a rabies task force and set up another vaccination clinic, which they call Rabies Warriors, in July.

“We do this because the cause is important to us,” says Rachel, who, with her husband, owns the Community Veterinary Clinic in Vero Beach, Florida. Through their clinic they also donate $1 to Rabies Free Africa for every rabies vaccination they give to their dog patients. To date, they have donated nearly $3,000 to the program, which would vaccinate 300 dogs in Africa.

“What we discovered is that it is important to our clients too,” says Rachel. “We even had a client post a Yelp review that said our community involvement is one factor that keeps them returning. That reinforced the idea that being involved in the community makes good business sense and eliminating rabies is the cause that is important to us.”