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December 31, 2018

KP hospitals face shortage of anti-rabies vaccines


December 31, 2018

PESHAWAR: Whether one should call it ignorance of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah or his lack of commitment with his responsibility, there is severe shortage of the anti-rabies vaccine in the public sector health institutions despite his claim to have provided the vaccine to all hospitals of the province.

When this correspondent politely reminded the minister if he can check with the secretary health or other officials before making such a claim as dog bite victims were facing serious problems due to lack of anti-rabies vaccine in the hospitals, he stuck to his statement and said he had personally verified provision of the stocks to all hospitals of KP.

However, a senior official of the provincial Health Department clarified three days after the health minister’s claim that he was in fact referring to a notification issued by the director general health services on December 3, 2018 to all the district health officers (DHOs) to ensure availability of anti-rabies vaccine and anti-snake venom in their respective hospitals.

“As the shortlisted firm has regretted to provide ARV, so DHOs and medical superintendents of DHQ hospitals of KP are directed to procure the same vaccine from the market or National Institute of Health (NIH) on need basis to meet the public demand. It is further added that in case of non-availability, the controlling officer will be held responsible himself,” the DG health services had stated in an official communiqué, a copy of which is available with The News.

The fact is that right from a basic health unit to the KP’s oldest and largest public sector hospital, Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), anti-rabies vaccine is not available.

Neither the minister nor DG health services took punitive action against any officer for not purchasing ARV for dog bite victims.

Some private pharmacies managed to arrange ARV from different places and are reportedly exploiting the situation by overcharging people. Iqbal Khan, a salesman in a cloth centre in Peshawar, was bitten by dogs in his village while going to a mosque to offer the Fajr prayer a few days ago. “I was taken to the emergency department of LRH where the doctors told us that they don’t have the vaccine. We purchased it from a pharmacy just across the road near the LRH emergency department. We paid Rs3,600 for three injections and also purchased some other injections prescribed by the doctors,” he said.

Siyar Khan, a government department’s employee, was also bitten by a stray dog in Katlang subdivision recently. He was taken to the Mardan Medical Complex (MMC) as the ARV wasn’t available in the local BHU or in the Category-D Hospital at Katlang.

He was made to wait in MMC for a few hours as they didn’t have the vaccine and tried to arrange it from somewhere else. His family finally shifted him to LRH in the hope that being the largest hospital it would provide them the vaccine.

Hospital Director Dr Khalid Masud said they tried to procure vaccine but could not find it. But Siyar Khan’s brother purchased it from a private pharmacy in front of LRH.

“I procured five injections, each costing us Rs1400. Also, I bought two other injections prescribed by the doctors in LRH from a private pharmacy that cost Rs2200,” said Sajjad Khan, younger brother of Siyar Khan.

Sources in the health department told The News that majority of dog bite victims have been suffering due to lack of ARV in the entire KP hospitals.

According to a senior official of Health Department, the government has banned vaccines being imported from neighbouring India due to unknown reasons, but it couldn’t make alternate arrangements to save precious human lives.

According to sources, sometimes the hospital authorities purchase vaccine from the local market if the dog bite victim brought to them is influential or if media raised the issue.

“Every day we receive half a dozen victims of dog bite from different areas but we don’t have the vaccine to treat them. Obviously they have to buy it from the market or they will die,” an official of LRH told The News.

LRH Hospital Director Dr Khalid Masud said they were making efforts to arrange the vaccine and save lives.

He said they often become helpless when the vaccine is not available in the market. A senior official of the KP Health Department told The News that not only KP, but other provinces were also facing the same problem. “Currently this is the issue of the entire country. I don’t think there is any public sector hospital in the country having anti-rabies vaccines these days,” said the official. He said the KP government was using other options to arrange the vaccine but it will take time. In Mardan, most of the dog bite victims are brought to the Mardan Medical Complex (MMC), which doesn’t have the vaccine. MMC Hospital Director Dr Tariq Mehmood told The News that he had procured some vaccines from the market but these lasted a few days only. “People come to us even from Swat and Peshawar and we cannot refuse patients,” said Dr Tariq Mehmood. According to health experts, rabies is a virus mostly transmitted by a bite from a wild infected animal to other animals. It is stated to be fatal if not treated in time.

An infected animal has the rabies virus in its saliva and can transmit it to a person if bitten. After a bite, the rabies virus can spread to surrounding muscle and travel up to nerves leading to the brain. Once the virus reaches the brain, the infection is fatal in almost all cases. The victims need the vaccine five times within 28 days of the dog bite.