Experts call to eliminate rabies thru mass dog vaccination

Updated September 29, 2019

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A pack of stray dogs roams around North Nazimabad on Saturday.—White Star
A pack of stray dogs roams around North Nazimabad on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: Speakers at an event held to mark World Rabies Day on Saturday underscored the need for eliminating the fatal disease through mass vaccination and management of dog population — a humane methodology being successfully implemented in parts of Karachi.

The event was organised by the Indus Hospital in Defence Housing Authority.

The theme of World Rabies Day — a global campaign aimed at preventing the spread of the world’s most fatal disease — this year is ‘Rabies: Vaccinate to Eliminate’.

Around 150 cases of dog bite occur daily in Karachi alone

Sharing information about the disease, its transmission and impact on communities, especially in developing countries, speakers said rabies was a vaccine-preventable viral disease — usually transmitted to people from the saliva of infected animals.

Around 59,000 people die of rabies annually as a result of being bitten by infected dogs — the main source of human rabies deaths.

Most of these deaths, they pointed out, occurred in Africa and Asia while up to 60 per cent of all dog bites and rabies deaths occurred in children under 15 years of age.

According to the experts, Pakistan is also among the countries seriously affected by rabies. It is estimated that 2,000 to 5,000 people die of the disease every year as healthcare facilities frequently run short of anti-rabies vaccines.

Around 150 cases of dog bite occur daily in Karachi alone.

Mass culling opposed

They, however, rejected the perception that humans alone were the victims of this deadly disease and said dogs, too, suffered from the disease and millions were killed every year as a result of mass culling through misguided attempts to curb the disease.

“Mass culling is not only inhumane but counterproductive, ineffective and a waste of time and resources. Eliminating the disease by vaccinating dogs protects them and stops transmission to the people.

“But despite the existence of effective, relatively low-cost solutions to controlling animal rabies, people and animals are still dying,” said Dr Naseem Salahuddin, a senior infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

Presenting an overview of the Rabies-Free Karachi (RFK) project initially launched in Ibrahim Hyderi last year, she said it aimed at vaccinating stray dogs on a large scale, controlling their population and creating public awareness of dog behaviour and rabies.

“It is an endeavour that seeks to humanely control the street dog population through surgical sterilisation and mass dog vaccination. Its scale-up work has begun covering regions in Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi, Lyari and Landhi and it is hoped that the project could be replicated throughout Pakistan,” she said.

During the event, the project team spread awareness of rabies, its prevention, and treatment. It was followed by an address of the core and field team members who spoke about their experiences; a dog-catching simulation was administered and the surgical container was opened for inspection, where dogs are surgically sterilised.

“The RFK’s aim is to highlight the essential role of mass canine vaccination in rabies elimination. It also indicates the need for human vaccination to save lives in case of potential exposure to rabies,” said Mohammad Aftab Gohar, representing the RFK project.

“Pakistan, as a whole, and Karachi in particular, reports a large number of dog bites from street dogs. By our efforts, reduction in street dog population would occur naturally and become evident in the following years.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2019