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Rabies vaccine

Editorial Board
Monday, Feb 19, 2024

Dog bites should not lead to fatalities in the 21st century, nor should stray dogs be allowed to roam around cities unchecked and unneutered. But this is exactly what has been allowed in Sindh. While dog bites and rabies infections are likely not unheard of in the other provinces, the problem appears to be particularly prevalent in Sindh. To make matters worse, the body tasked with combating this problem, the rabies control programme Sindh (RCPS), is reportedly short on funds, prompting a Sindh High Court order asking the provincial authorities to release said funds. The court also issued a directive asking for a helpline dedicated to complaints about stray dogs to be made operational within a week and pointed out that there were around 50 stray dogs on its own premises. That court orders need to be issued for this problem to be dealt with speaks to the gravity of the problem, while the ubiquitous presence of street dogs underscores the inability of the authorities to control the dog population.

According to health authorities, there were over an estimated 200,000 dog bite cases in the province during the first 10 months of 2022 alone. At the time, only 93,000 anti-rabies vaccines were available with the health department. While not every dog bite results in rabies, dogs that do carry the disease tend to be more aggressive and prone to attacking humans. With bites so far outstripping available vaccines, cases where people die due to a lack of rabies vaccines are not uncommon. According to a study by health experts released last year, around 129 patients are known to have lost their lives to rabies at just two major tertiary care hospitals in Karachi during a 10-year period from 2009 to 2019. Aside from anti-rabies vaccine shortages, the study also pointed out the lack of awareness among many people of rabies, preventing patients from getting timely and proper treatment. Experts say that rabies is 100 per cent fatal if not treated immediately.

The response of the authorities has mainly been to conduct sporadic culling campaigns in which a large number of dogs are captured and killed and there was at least one large culling operation in the Clifton Cantonment Board area last year. Aside from the cruel nature of this response, there is little to indicate that it has been effective, thus far. Stray dogs appear to be as common as ever in Karachi and elsewhere in Sindh. This is likely due in large part to the vast amounts of waste and rubbish piled up on the country’s street corners, creating a fertile environment for dogs, cats and rats to thrive on Pakistan’s streets. Solving the rabies problem on a permanent basis will require better waste management. There is also a need to spread greater awareness about the danger of rabies, how to spot rabid dogs and what one must do if they or their loved ones are bitten. As to the funding of the RCPS, there is little point in throwing money at solutions that have already failed. Rather than more culling campaigns, the authorities ought to vaccinate and sterilize more dogs, which has yielded positive results in most developed countries.