Dog-bite epidemic

Published December 9, 2022

AN exploding population of stray canines has fuelled a dog-bite epidemic in Sindh, with the provincial health minister telling the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday that over 200,000 dog-bite cases had been reported in the province during the first 10 months of this year. These grim numbers have also been corroborated by other sources. For example, as the manager of the Karachi-based Indus Hospital’s rabies prevention centre told this paper recently, his facility had treated over 600 cases over a two-week period. He added that many of the victims had been badly mauled by rabid canines. What is equally alarming is the fact that many of those bitten had been referred to the private welfare hospital as public health facilities had run out of rabies’ vaccine.

A two-pronged approach is needed to deal with the menace of dog bites. Firstly, public hospitals need to be equipped with sufficient rabies vaccines. Moreover, staffers must be trained to administer proper and timely treatment, which can save lives, while patients also need to be given counselling about follow-up treatment. Health experts also point out that the rabies immunoglobulin should be administered along with the rabies vaccine. The second key intervention required to save people from injury and death caused by dog bites is the need to control the canine population in a scientific way. Culling is both cruel and ineffective. And while rabid animals should be ethically put down, a far better way to control the dog population is the trap, neuter, vaccinate and release, or TNVR, approach. A rabies control programme inspired by this approach was launched in Sindh a few years ago, but as the dog-bite figures cited by the minister in the provincial assembly indicate, it may need to be implemented more effectively. It is also true that heaps of solid waste, particularly in Karachi, attract stray dogs, and unless this mess is cleaned up and local governments launch sustained TNVR campaigns, the canine population will continue to increase.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2022

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