AWAY from the hurly-burly of politics, Pakistan’s considerable healthcare challenges cry out for attention. Amongst these challenges is the problem rabies poses to public health in the country. According to a recent journal article authored by experts at the Karachi-based Indus Hospital, 129 people died from rabies in Sindh between 2009 and 2019. The study reveals disturbing realities about the state of rabies prevention, and about the condition of public healthcare in general in Sindh. The reported deaths are based on data gathered by the Indus Hospital and the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. If data from Sindh’s other hospitals were added, the total could be higher. After all, the Sindh health minister said on the floor of the provincial assembly in December 2022 that in the first 10 months of that year alone, thousands of dog-bite cases had been reported in the province. Coming back to the study, it points out that most people are not aware of how to treat a dog-bite wound and if not treated effectively, a bite from a rabid animal can prove 100pc fatal. Moreover, 97pc of patients did not receive complete vaccination, while most cases involved children and young adults. The study also exposes the sad condition of public healthcare in Sindh, pointing out that most health facilities do not follow rabies prevention protocols, while anti-rabies vaccines are not available at medical facilities where victims profiled by the study initially reported. Perhaps what is most shocking is that in 60pc of the cases, patients had to travel to Karachi for treatment, in some instances over 550km from northern Sindh to the port city.
It is necessary to ramp up programmes to vaccinate and sterilise dogs to reduce the stray canine population. People also need to be advised on how to treat bite wounds, and to get medical help immediately. Equally important is the need to ensure that qualified medical staffers and anti-rabies vaccines are available in all districts, so that victims do not have to journey hundreds of kilometres for treatment. Here the Sindh government must pay particular attention to the province’s poor health infrastructure. The administration has of late been concentrating on big-ticket projects such as cardiac centres. While these too are important, ensuring that basic health units in Sindh have the staff and equipment to meet medical emergencies is absolutely crucial.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2023
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