ISLAMABAD: Despite an alarming increase in rabies cases -caused by dog bite - across the country, the authorities at the helm of affairs at federal and provincial levels seem to be callous for evolving an effective strategy to eliminate rabies.
According to data collected by The News, almost all parts of the country witnessed spike in cases of rabid dog bite. However, the authorities seem to be indifferent in planning a unified strategy for permanent elimination of the disease from the country.
The apathetic attitude of relevant authorities could be judged by the fact that Sindh has failed to adopt any plan at all, though Punjab chalked out a plan on paper it has yet to materialize while KPK is relying on a traditional method of culling stray dogs.
As a result, the cases from all these parts have escalated, reflects the data gathered by The News. When contacted the ministry of health, the spokesperson Sajjid Hussain Shah passed on the bulk to local authorities by stating that rabies could be tackled by a multipronged approach with maximum inputs from provincial, city and town governments due to a devolved health structure in the country.
Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the chairperson of the rabies-free Pakistan campaign as well as a member of the WHO team working against rabies, told this correspondent the authorities have completely failed to contain rabies as dog bite cases sharply increased and the condition turned worsen in all parts of the country especially Sindh.
He regretted that the local departments had zero level of interest in making any policy for the eradication of rabies in Sindh particularly Karachi. Secretary to primary and secondary healthcare department Punjab Imran Sikandar Baloch was also approached by this correspondent to inquire about the implementation of policy for sterilising rabid dog. However, no response was received despite multiple efforts by The News.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with a total of 51,477 cases, almost 25 percent increase was recorded in dog bite cases last year. Dr Nek Dad Khan Afridi, Director Public Health KPK asserted that dogs were being killed in the province to eliminate rabies as “around 150-200 dogs are culled every month in the province.
Muhammad Aftab Gohar, a manager of rabies prevention & training centre & health network Karachi said: “We have seen over 9066 animal bite (mainly dog bite) victims in 2021 at hospitals in Karachi and provided them with treatment in line with WHO guidelines to prevent rabies. Dog bite cases are at significant rise every year as we received a little over 7000 dog bite victims in 2020". He added that four patients, who were brought to us with full blown rabies, died last year as they could not receive proper treatment soon after the bite incidents and they eventually developed rabies. They were taken to the private hospital only after when the symptoms started appearing.
This scribe attempted to gather the complete data of rabid dog bites from all over Sindh but failed as officials could not produce the exact figure of rabid dog bite cases since most of the cases remained unreported.
Prof Masood Rabbani, President of Pakistan Veterinary Council revealed a new policy is being implemented in Punjab to control the rabid dogs. He added that the province had finally moved from the policy of killing stray dogs to manage their population. In this regard, Rs74 million had already been released by the health department Punjab.
However, it has been learned from sources that no work regarding dog control management has been done so far in Punjab rather the number of rabid dog bite cases have increased. An official on condition of anonymity revealed that Punjab neither was killing dogs nor making them rabies free through vaccinations. “Ultimately, the condition is deteriorating.”
Earlier, Prof Masood had claimed that Punjab would adopt the Turkish model to reduce the stray dog population instead of shooting or poisoning them. In this regard, the exercise of TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate and release) to control the population of stray dogs was started in Punjab. District monitoring committees and tehsil implementation committees have also been formulated for effective implementation of the new policy.
However, no reply was received when the scribe approached him to inquire about any development regarding his earlier claim. Experts and social activists, who have been working for elimination of rabies for years, suggest that the problem of rabies could only be resolved through a collaborated effort by all provinces. The idea of culling stray dogs was ineffective, and the implementation of the WHO guidelines for the elimination of rabies was the ideal option. They added that by adopting a model used in Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia; Pakistan could also make its land free of rabies.
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