Rabies Alert

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Mahtab Nisar

Dog bite incidents have long been a concern in Pakistan, but recent spikes in attacks, coupled with alarming statistics, signal a looming rabies epidemic. Karachi, the nation’s largest city, has seen a sharp rise in dog attacks, resulting in a devastating toll on human lives. Karachi Civil Hospital alone reported over 230 cases of injuries by undomesticated dogs in just two months, claiming the lives of ten individuals. These harrowing numbers underscore the urgent need for comprehensive public health interventions to curb the escalating threat of rabies. However, the crisis extends beyond Karachi, with other regions of Pakistan grappling with similar challenges.
In Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a staggering 15,574 dog-bite cases were recorded in the first quarter of 2023. Punjab faces the daunting task of managing its burgeoning stray dog population, exceeding 460,000. Additionally, Azad Kashmir, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Islamabad have all reported significant numbers of rabies cases, further exacerbating the nationwide crisis. One of the most pressing issues exacerbating the rabies threat is the acute shortage of anti-rabies vaccines, as highlighted in a 2019 report by the Special Branch.
Despite the glaring need for preventive action, efforts to address this critical shortfall have been inadequate. Tragically, many victims, particularly those from rural areas, lack access to timely treatment and resort to ineffective traditional remedies, leading to fatal outcomes. Often, it is too late to mitigate the damage inflicted by rabid dog bites. To avert a full-blown crisis, authorities must take immediate and concerted action on multiple fronts.
Awareness campaigns are paramount to educate the public about the risks of rabies and the importance of seeking prompt medical attention following dog bites. These campaigns should utilize various mediums such as television, radio, social media, and community outreach programs to reach a wide audience, including those in remote areas. Local health authorities should collaborate with community leaders, schools, and religious institutions to disseminate information and promote responsible pet ownership.
Moreover, vaccination and sterilization programs must be intensified, targeting both domestic and feral dog populations. Mobile vaccination teams should be deployed to reach remote areas where access to veterinary services is limited. These teams can also provide basic veterinary care and educate pet owners on the importance of vaccinations and responsible pet management. Additionally, efforts should be made to promote the adoption of stray dogs through adoption drives and incentives for pet owners.
The Trap Neuter Vaccinate and Return (TNVR) initiative for feral dogs warrants strengthened support to control their numbers and reduce the risk of rabies transmission. Community-based TNVR programs can engage local volunteers and organizations to trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return stray dogs to their communities. These programs not only help manage the stray dog population but also reduce the incidence of rabies by vaccinating and sterilizing dogs that may carry the virus.
Health officials emphasize that immunizing 70% of street dogs can significantly mitigate the spread of rabies, highlighting the importance of proactive vaccination efforts. However, the effectiveness of these measures hinges on the availability of emergency apparatus in basic health units across the country. Without adequate resources and infrastructure, even the most well-intentioned interventions will falter in addressing the rabies crisis effectively.
The escalating dog-bite epidemic requires coordinated action at all levels of government and infrastructure development. Pakistan can stem the tide of rabies-related fatalities and safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens. Failure to act decisively risks the further proliferation of this deadly disease, with devastating consequences for communities across the nation. The government, health authorities, and communities must work together urgently to address this pressing public health issue before it spirals out of control. Through collaboration and proactive measures, Pakistan can mitigate the threat of rabies and protect its people from harm. Stakeholders must prioritize funding and resources for rabies control programs and work towards creating a safer environment for both humans and animals alike. By investing in education, vaccination, and community engagement, Pakistan can pave the way for a future free from the fear of rabies outbreaks.

The writer is a freelance columnist.