FOR the Sindh government, the stray dog population and the ensuing cases of dog bites and rabies has proved to be a difficult beast to tackle. Though the provincial administration has taken several steps including culling and sterilisation campaigns and the introduction of helplines, the usual ad hoc and inconsistent approach to the issue has made all these measures largely ineffective. The stray dog population in Karachi and other Sindh cities continues to thrive, and there has been no let-up in the number of dog-bite cases that sometimes lead to rabies. Meanwhile, the shortage of the rabies vaccine and the dilapidated state of public hospitals and dog-bite centres in smaller towns of the province have exacerbated the problem. In 2019 alone, almost 11,000 dog-bite patients were treated at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. In January last year, the provincial government finalised a billion-rupee programme for vaccinating stray dogs to control their numbers. According to a report published earlier this week, the Sindh local government secretary said that the provincial rabies control programme had vaccinated more than 30,000 stray dogs in Karachi alone. He said similar measures would be expanded to the rest of the province as well.
However, this initiative followed a gruesome dog-culling campaign in the city in February. The authorities had resorted to shooting stray dogs in certain areas. The two campaigns, less than a month apart and completely opposite in nature, reveal the shortsighted approach of the authorities. Moreover, during a recent hearing, the additional advocate general had informed the Sindh High Court Sukkur bench that around 110,000 stray dogs had been killed in the province. The ongoing efforts may give some respite in the short term, but for lasting results the provincial government needs to come up with a multipronged approach that includes vaccination of stray dogs, ensuring the supply of rabies vaccine and adequate treatment of dog-bite patients in all public hospitals, combined with a robust advocacy campaign. Only consistent efforts will prove effective in controlling this menace.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021