A rapidly growing rat population is becoming a serious public health concern
There’s a long line outside the vaccination room at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), one of Peshawar’s most prominent government teaching institutes. Many patients are victims of rat bites that, if left untreated, can lead to dangerous infections or death.
“About seven to 10 patients visit the vaccination room daily,” reveals Afrin Jan, chief vaccinator at LRH. In 30 minutes, there were four patients seeking treatment for rat bites. “This has become routine,” he adds.
Peshawar is fast becoming a hub for rodents, which rapidly breed and infest low-income neighborhoods. Rats as big as cats are seen scampering across narrow streets in the day and attacking adults and children in the night, spreading fear and disease among residents.
Also read: Child killed by rat-bite in Peshawar
LRH, along with Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) provide free of charge medical treatment and vaccination to rat bite victims and register their data.
“Majority come from low-income localities, and when asked where they sleep they all have the same answer: the floor,” Jan adds.
Although rats are not carnivorous, an abundance of undisposed trash in and around homes attracts them to densely populated habitats where they are tempted to bite the face, hands, and feet — often mistaking these uncovered parts for food.
Open sewers and inadequate drainage lines coupled with increased urbanisation make these localities the perfect breeding ground for rats to multiply.
The map below shows the geo locations for 1,295 rat-bite victims in Peshawar during an 8-month period:
A study conducted by Peshawar University’s Zoology Department found that the huge number of cases reported from Peshawar during 2016 were due to two species: the local black rat and the invasive brown rat.
The research indicated that the invasion of non-native brown rats into Pakistan was presumably via the port city of Karachi, from where it eventually makes its way north in various food containers.
The study also highlights various environmental variables like temperature, precipitation, humidity, and elevation, and anthropogenic factors like human population density, distance from roads, distance from water channels, and land use as the main causes of a rat epidemic.
The government has enlisted the services of the only “rat killer and expert”, Naseer Ahmed, 43, and launched a collaborative drive to hunt rats terrorising residents.
“Our team led by expert Naseer Ahmed is busy day and night hunting rats,” Zonal manager of the Water and Sanitation Services Department in Peshawar (WSSP), Amin Gul tells Dawn.com. He adds that the government has approved a special budget to control the menace of rats in the city.
Taxi-driver turned rat vigilante, Naseer Ahmed has been on the government’s payroll since 2016 but has independently been hunting rats for the last nine years. He says his daughters have also helped him clean up the city. “I started hunting rats after a rat bit my friend’s wife,” he says.
He prepares a mixture of rat poison which is added to food which is sprinkled along rat holes and uncovered sewage lines. “This is difficult work,” he says. “Rats live in underground dwellings and their bodies often surface in the sewers a few hours or even days later.”
He says there is no way to really know how many rats there are in Peshawar, but Ahmed is convinced the number is far more alarming than what is reported.
“After spreading the poison mixture at night we have to wake up early in the morning to collect the dead rats as the carcasses pose a threat.”
After joining WSSP, he has accelerated the speed of his mission. “The government provides me every possible facility to fight the battle,” he says, adding that he killed almost 150,000 rats during the last few years.
“We are killing 50 to 60 rats every week, but the rate that the rats breed at is much higher.” Despite his efforts, Ahmed says the threat of rats continues in the city.
“If we do not stop the breeding of rats now, it will create more health issues and will be a huge challenge in the future.”