One of the more distressing practices that has become the norm in Pakistan is to carry out culls of packs of stray dogs that roam many of our towns and cities. Their population in urban areas tends only to grow, especially in places where ample food is available in open garbage dumps. This means that particularly in low-income and congested areas, citizens walking the pathways are menaced by this peril; dogs in packs often attack vulnerable individuals, with children being most at risk, resulting not just in grievous injuries but also exposure to rabies — a disease that is fatal once the symptoms set in. Municipal administrations’ solution has traditionally been to lay down poisoned meat, the consumption of which causes the animal to die an agonising death. But, as large-scale studies focusing on countries from India to South Africa have shown, the practice of killing off pye-dogs has proved to be quite ineffective since the reduction in the numbers of competitors only leads to higher rates of breeding. The answer lies in sterilising as many animals as possible, thus bringing the numbers down in a humane fashion.
It is encouraging, then, that on January 12, 2018, the country’s most populated city, which witnesses an estimated 150 dog-bite cases daily, announced the Rabies-Free Karachi pilot project. This initiative, centred in Ibrahim Hyderi — one of the areas worst affected by cases of dog bite — aims to vaccinate and sterilise stray dogs on a large scale, while also creating public awareness of dog behaviour and rabies. At a ceremony in this regard held at Karachi’s Indus Hospital, which is collaborating with WHO and KMC on the project, health professionals talked about the scale of the problem and the promising fact that vaccinating 70pc of the dog population had successfully eliminated rabies in areas where the threat was endemic. It is to be hoped that the project meets with success so that it can be replicated in other areas.