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November 10, 2019

Teenage rabies victim awaits death at JPMC as vaccine shortage persists across Sindh

Karachi

November 10, 2019

Another young man is awaiting death in an isolation ward of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) after developing full-blown rabies, as he was bitten by a rabid dog some three months ago but was not administered the rabies vaccine, officials said on Saturday.

“Eighteen-year-old Zahoor Khan, a resident of Jeva Khan Goth in the Nooriabad area of District Jamshoro, has been brought to the casualty of the JPMC with full-blown rabies,” Dr Seemin Jamali, the hospital’s executive director, told The News.

“According to his family members, the teenager was bitten by a stray dog around three months ago, but he was not administered the rabies vaccine.”

Sindh Health Department officials said that this is the 22nd case of rabies in the province this year, as an 11-year-old boy from Chachro Tehsil of Tharparkar had died due to rabies encephalitis at the National Institute of Child Health a couple of days ago.

Manzoor Khan, the ill-fated youngster’s father, said that after his son was bitten on the leg, he was taken to a local doctor, who had dressed the wound and given him some medicines but had not asked for the teenager to be vaccinated or referred him to a tertiary-care hospital.

Experts say rabies encephalitis is a 100 per cent lethal but preventable disease, and any person who is bitten by a stray dog should be immediately given immunoglobulin and four to five doses of the rabies vaccine to prevent them from developing the fatal disease.

Officials said that right now dog-bite incidents are on the rise in Karachi as well as in other districts of Sindh, with so far more than 200,000 people falling victim to canine attacks.

They added that the population of rabid dogs is also on the rise, and the animals are not only transmitting the disease to their own species but also attacking humans throughout the province.

Dr Seemin said the 18-year-old man was bitten by a stray dog on the leg some three months ago, and unfortunately, neither did the family know about vaccination nor did anybody tell them to get the teenager vaccinated, which resulted in the development of the lethal disease.

“These days any person who is bitten by a dog should be given immunoglobulin as well as the full course of the rabies vaccine to prevent the victim from a painful death. Once rabies is developed in a person, there is no cure for their condition.”

She deplored the fact that on the one hand incidents of dog-bite are on the rise and on the other, hospitals in the entire province are facing a shortage of the rabies vaccine, due to which the cases are being referred to the JPMC in Karachi.

“Even the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, which is considered to be a tertiary-care hospital, is referring dog-bite victims to the JPMC after administering one dose of the vaccine,” she said.

“As we don’t know the status of their vaccination, we have to vaccinate these patients from zero, but this practice is extremely unprofessional and it can result in the loss of a precious life.”

On the other hand, the shortage of rabies vaccine is becoming a serious issue in Pakistan, especially in Sindh, which requires hundreds of thousands of doses to prevent the people from developing rabies encephalitis.

However, due to a limited supply of the rabies vaccine from India and the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad, many people are not vaccinated following canine attacks.

Pakistan used to get most of its rabies vaccine supplies from Indian biotechnology giants and pharmaceutical companies, but after the deterioration of relations between the two countries, Pakistan’s next-door neighbour reduced those supplies, while production at the NIH is insufficient to meet the local requirements.

In this scenario, experts say there is an urgent need to control the population of stray dogs in the country by hook or by crook.

They believe that at a time when there is not enough quantity of rabies vaccine available, the authorities should take measures to save the people from canine attacks by reducing dogs’ population by any means.

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