Karachi’s dog bite epidemic

December 5, 2021

The increasing frequency of dog biting incidents in the metropolitan is being blamed on the increasing population of stray dogs

Karachi’s dog bite epidemic

Dog biting incidents are on the rise at an alarming rate in Karachi, affecting the quality of life for its residents. Three major hospitals in Karachi reported 25,000 cases of rabies in 2021 alone. As many as 80,000 have been cases reported over the past three years. As many as 129 people in Karachi have lost their lives due to rabies encephalitis in the last 10 years.

Most Karachiites complain that the population of stray dogs has continued to increase and that the authorities have failed to control the situation. There are more than 2.5 million stray dogs in Sindh. Culling such a large population of animals represents a huge challenge for the provincial government. The responsibility for the containment of stray dogs in Karachi is shared among the provincial government, the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) and the District Municipal Corporations (DMCs).

“A stray dog attacked my 10-year-old nephew two months ago. He was playing next to the house,” Shan, 25, a resident of Liaquatabad tells The News on Sunday. He says the family took the child to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) for treatment but the required vaccine was not administered at the hospital. “The doctors delayed the treatment. The boy suffered a lot,” he says.

“Not a single street is safe. Stray dogs roam in Liaquatabad, Federal Capital Area, Moosa Colony and Punjab Colony. These are densely populated areas where people are out and about during all hours of the day,” Shan said.

Zeenia Shaukat, an animal rights activist in Karachi says, “I feel that there is no dearth of people in the community who care for stray dogs. I have seen people from all walks of life, even the homeless, sharing their food, and tending to injured animals,” she says.

“There will always be people who will be uncomfortable with stray dogs,” Shaukat tells TNS. “The problem is that the government has completely ignored the need to equip the community with the tools necessary to deal with stray dogs,” she says. She says there is a need for formal plans incorporating community involvement to care for the strays and better execution of the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) programme.

“There is absolutely no way a bunch of organisations, even the government machinery, can deliver on the gigantic task of TNVR while working in isolation,” Shaukat says. She adds that communities need to be informed on how to treat stray animals. Not all dogs carry rabies, she points out.

“By promoting dog culling, the state is arming citizens to execute violence against God’s creatures,” she says. She says that the policy is not only immoral, it is also setting a dangerous precedent whereby citizens are told to shoot and do away with things that make them uncomfortable.

“I was carrying tea to serve a customer at a nearby shop, when a stray dog suddenly jumped on me and bit me on my left leg,” says Muhammad Rizwan, 24, a waiter at a restaurant in FC Area. According to Rizwan, he was rescued from further harm by his colleagues and bystanders who used a stick to scare the dog away. Following the incident, he was taken to Civil Hospital, Karachi, (CHK) for treatment.

Delay in providing the treatment to dog-bite patients at public hospitals is another cause of concern for the people. Muhammad Faheem, a spokesperson for the Central District Municipal Corporation tells The News on Sunday that in the past the authorities had launched campaigns to eliminate stray dogs in several parts of the city. “However, an animal rights NGO took the matter to a court complaining of cruelty involved in the mass culling of stray dogs. The court ordered that the campaign be stopped,” he said.

Karachi’s dog bite epidemic

There are over 2.5 million stray dogs in Sindh alone. Culling such a large number of animals is a huge challenge for the provincial government. 

Faheem says most citizens have no issue with the killing of stray dogs in their areas, but the DMC is helpless on account of the court order. “We use poisoned capsules hidden in sweets and meat to eliminate the stray dogs, with permission from higher authorities if needed,” he says.

Sonia Saher, founder and president of Stray Animal Safety and Caring Aid Provider (SASCAP) tells The News on Sunday that killing an animal that hurts you will not solve the overarching problem. “If you are killing dogs and leaving the bodies in the streets you are causing air and water pollution, which is harmful for the environment,” she says.

She says stray dogs are often traumatised and react in self-defence, not all of them have rabies. According to Saher, the people tasked with eliminating these dogs should be trained instead to become dog rescuers. She says a mass vaccination campaign across Sindh would be easier to implement than a cull. “If we allocate safe zones in the outskirts of the city and relocate aggressive dogs to less populated areas after vaccination, people will be less anxious.”

“We can protect people from potentially fatal dog bites by vaccinating all dogs against rabies and neutering a suitable number to control their population. In the Nopast, killing of stray dogs in several areas has been followed by an increase in their population over time. Dog culling is a short term solution,” she says. She says cleaning garbage dumps and disposing leftover food properly will help curb territorial tendencies amongst groups of stray dogs. “Education and awareness campaigns are necessary. Use of surgical procedures and relocation of some dogs to less populated areas can be part of a long-term solution,” she suggests.

“The government had previously launched a stray dog culling campaign in North Karachi, Nazimabad, Liaquatabad, Gulberg Town, New Karachi and in some katchi abadis in October. It had culled hundreds of stray dogs by November,” Akhtar Raza, a sanitary section worker of DMC Central says. “We are receiving hundreds of complaints from people in different areas about dog biting incidents occurring on a daily basis, especially in underdeveloped areas,” he says.

According to Raza, the Central district of Karachi has one of the highest populations of stray dogs, an estimated 12,000. “Winter is apparently the breeding season for stray dogs. Culling them is not an easy task,” he says. He adds that culling stray dogs using poisoned capsules is not a viable solution for population control. He says mass sterilisation can be far more effective.

Muhammad Aftab Gohar, the Rabies Prevention Centre manager at Indus Hospital, Karachi, tells The News on Sunday that Indus Hospital treated 7,500 dog bite cases in 2020. He says the number is increasing.

“The only safe strategy is to implement animal sterilisation strategies such as those that have succeeded in Sri Lanka, Mexico and the Philippines to prevent dog biting incidents,” he adds.

Local Government Secretary Najam Ahmed Shah submitted a report regarding the culling of stray dogs to Sindh High Court on September 21. As per the report, a total of 25,419 stray dogs were killed from June to September 2021; 3,864 stray dogs were culled in Karachi alone and 11,344 in Hyderabad, 3,818 in Sukkur, 2,591 in Shaheed Benazir Abad, 2,045 in Mirpurkhas and 1,757 in Larkana.

Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the head of Infectious Diseases at Indus Hospital and Health Network and a member of WHO Advisory Committee for Rabies, tells The News on Sunday that the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend the culling of stray dogs. “Sterilization is the best strategy to control the spread of rabies and the increasing population of stray dogs,” she says.

According to Dr Salahuddin, “We launched a TNVR campaign in 2018 for the sterilisation of stray dogs at Indus Hospital and Health Network under which 8,500 dogs were sterilised in Karachi’s coastal belt around Ibrahim Hyderi, Landhi, Korangi and District South. We have vaccinated more than 32,000 dogs through the efforts of two teams of dog catchers and vets in Karachi.”

She says that Getz Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, has started a Rabies Free Pakistan (RFP) programme two years ago. A plan was presented to the Local Government Department but a response has not been received so far. “Local Government Department allocated funding for the initiative and even had a Rabies Free Sindh campaign on its official reports, but little was done in the way of practical measures,” said Dr Salahuddin.

Dr Salahuddin says that at least 9,000 cases of dog bites were reported at Indus Hospital Karachi. She says another 10,000 patients were treated at JPMC Hospital. She says there were more than 25,000 dog biting incidents reported in Karachi this year. She says: “If the local government were to provide us with 10 teams of dog catchers, the process of vaccination and sterilisation would be much faster.”

The government has allocated significant funding for the purchase of poison, sweets, cake, meat and capsules for the extermination of stray dogs, however these measures have proven ineffective. “The vaccination of stray dogs is the only solution for rabies. Sterilisation is an easy and effective solution for population control.”

The writer is freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Karachi’s dog bite epidemic