KARACHI: Authorities have decided to sidestep the traditional method of fighting rabies, opting to vaccinate the stray dogs instead of poisoning them, to eventually eradicate the deadly virus.
This was decided during a meeting called by Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani on Thursday to discuss the issue of increase in the number of stray dogs and the resulting rise in the death toll due to rabies across Sindh. The meeting was co-chaired by Shallwani and Health Secretary Saeed Awan.
As the issue was brought to the table, a consensus was reached that poisoning stray dogs was not the solution and vaccinating the canines would eventually eradicate rabies.
It was decided in the meeting that a comprehensive plan would be devised with the guidance of the Department of Infectious Diseases at The Indus Hospital (TIH) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to vaccinate the stray dogs in Sindh.
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Doctors’ training programme
Moreover, the participants of the meeting also agreed that a training programme should be conducted by the TIH’s Department of Infectious Diseases at all major public hospitals in Sindh, including JPMC, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital, to train doctors for ensuring effective vaccination. The training will be imparted to the doctors through a series of workshops and seminars.
Addressing the meeting, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at TIH, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, said that the TIH has initiated a vaccination programme with the aim to resolve the issue of rabies permanently.
Why vaccinate dogs?
According to Dr Salahuddin, projects initiated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in different countries, have shown that mass dog vaccination (MDV) eliminates rabies in dogs, and eventually in humans.
She suggested that MDV, coupled with animal birth control (ABC), could prove to be a relatively ‘humane’ way of decreasing the canine population. Moreover, this might also make the dogs less aggressive, she said.
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Dog vaccination programme
She informed the participants of the meeting that the Indus Hospital Research Center has already launched a rabies control programme, Rabies Free Karachi, with the support of WHO and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). Under this programme, over 20,000 dogs have been vaccinated and more than 2,500 male and female dogs have been sterilised for birth control in Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi and Landhi.
Under this programme, vaccination and sterilisation of dogs was conducted in DHA recently and it will continue for the next three months, she said, adding that TIH plans to expand the campaign to cover all districts of Karachi as well as rural Sindh.
She requested KMC and Secretary Health to provide human resource and space for expanding the campaign. They agreed to her proposal and said that the scientific method of rabies elimination needs to be promoted.
The participants of the meeting decided to address the issue on a priority basis.
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Understanding the problem
She said that there are two aspects to the issue of rabies, dog bites and human rabies. Further elaborating on the problem, Dr Salahuddin said that rabies is a consequence of being bitten by a rabid animal, usually a dog. In case a rabid animal bites a person, the affected individual should be provided with the necessary treatment, including washing the wound and administering injections, within 24 to 48 hours, or else the bite can prove to be fatal, she said. If not treated, the person will develop rabies within six to eight weeks and eventually die, she added.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Salahuddin also explained the shortage of anti-rabies vaccine (ARV). She attributed the dearth of ARV and rabies immunoglobulin (RIG) in Sindh to low production of the antidotes globally. She informed the meeting there was a shortage of ARV and RIG across the world as the demand for them had increased globally.
However, while she said that ARV and RIG are imported in limited quantities to Pakistan, she pointed out that these are not used effectively and economically by healthcare professionals.
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In the meeting, the issue of dengue outbreak was also brought to the table.
Discussing the issue, Shallwani and Saeed directed to put hospitals and relevant departments on high alert, in light of the steep rise in dengue cases.
It was decided during the meeting that DCs would constitute teams for dengue prevention and an awareness campaign would be launched to curb the spread of dengue.
The DCs were directed to identify mosquito-breeding spots, such as tyre shops where stagnant water is kept, and take measures for their eradication. The participants of the meeting decided that teams formed by DCs would take measure, such as pursuing tyre shop owners and builders, to ensure that stagnant water is not present at workplaces.
Plans to launch a mass awareness campaign were also discussed at the meeting and it was decided that Sindh Health Department, KMC and all local body organisations would collaborate to run the campaign.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2019.