We are told that in Karachi, around 40 people suffering dog bites visit the rabies centre set up at the Jinnah Post-graduate Medical Centre (JPMC) daily. Others report to the hospital upon being bitten or extensively scratched by stray animals. The JPMC is one of the few locations in the country which has the required vaccines to prevent victims from developing rabies and is able to offer them the immediate treatment they need. Of course, the problem of dog biting exists in many cities all over the country. Yet the shortage of rabies vaccine is reported regularly and is most often not available at all in rural areas.
The issue, however, is not to do with the unavailability of the vaccine alone, but of the number of stray animals roaming our streets. Apart from occasional drives to kill them, nothing substantial is done to reduce their population. Even the means used to inflict death are extremely cruel. The poison used — strychnine — causes the animal extreme suffering once consumed. It is fed to them wrapped in meat or gulab jamuns. Instead of trying to hunt down and kill dogs, the authorities concerned need to find means to lower dog populations.
There are charities ready to set up animal shelters in the country where stray dogs and cats can be nurtured, spayed and possibly rehoused in some cases. Of course, a number of sick animals will need to be put down. But if we are to stop the spread of rabies, it is also vital that measures be taken to try and wipe out the disease by vaccinating animals and making our country rabies free. This is no easy task but it needs to be undertaken. Likewise, people need to be made aware of how to prevent animal bites. Approaching or teasing stray dogs is obviously asking for trouble. Only a unified strategy can eliminate rabies and, indeed, stop the spread of other infections caused by bites.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2012.
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