The municipal authorities will not initiate mass dog culling as a means to tackle the problem of dog bites and human rabies. The government will rather encourage and promote scientific methods of eliminating this disease. This commitment came from Commissioner of Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani and Health Secretary Saeed Awan who co-chaired a meeting held on Thursday.
The meeting was called to review the outbreak of dengue and discuss the issue pertaining to increasing stray dog population and human mortalities being caused by rabies in Sindh.
Expressing their concern over dengue outbreak, the officials issued high alert to the relevant departments and hospitals and directed deputy commissioners to undertake immediate action and make all stakeholders active against the mosquito-borne viral infection.
It was decided that all relevant departments, including the health department, programme manager dengue control programme, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, district municipal corporations and cantonment boards, would launch public awareness drive on the disease, fumigate their respective jurisdiction, and ensure that those infected by dengue get better treatment.
Mass dog culling
The meeting also decided to put an end to the decades-old practice of dog-poisoning as means to prevent cases of dog bite and human rabies and adopt mass vaccination of stray dogs under the guidance of Indus Hospital’s department of infectious diseases.
Earlier, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the head of the Indus Hospital’s infectious diseases department, briefed the participants about the Rabies Free Karachi Project — initially launched in Ibrahim Hyderi and now gradually being scaled up to the whole city.
Under the project in one year, 25,000 dogs have been vaccinated while 2,500 sterilised in Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi and Landhi.
She explained that the World Organisation for Animal Health, the WHO, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation all advocated the practice of mass dog vaccination coupled with birth control measures as effective means to eliminate rabies in both humans and animals.
Sterilisation would not only help reduce dog population in a humane manner in the long run but would also make dogs less aggressive, she said.
On the rising number of deaths from rabies, she said there was a shortage of anti-rabies vaccine globally because of lowered productivity, coupled with increased demand of these products in many countries.
These vaccines were imported in limited quantities into Pakistan. Hence, it’s important that health workers were trained to use them effectively and economically, a practice currently lacking at healthcare facilities, she said.
She also underscored the need for creating public awareness and said the role of media was important in educating the masses that the wound inflicted by an animal should be washed thoroughly with soap and running water for 15 minutes before the patient was taken to the hospital where anti-rabies vaccine was available.
Her request for space and human resources for the project’s expansion received positive response from the commissioner and health secretary.
Officials including those from the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Civil Hospital, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, cantonment boards and KMC were also present.
Rabies epidemic: Mad dog unleashes biting terror in Karachi
Well, it seems to have happened.
On Monday, night descended on the residents of Karachi’s Federal Capital (FC) Area, amid fear and haunting howls of a rabid female dog on the loose, who went on a biting spree, sending at least 23 people, including a police official, to the hospital.
The first one to fall prey to its frenzy was a minor girl who was attacked around 4pm on Monday, said Taimuri.
Recounting the terrifying instance when he was attacked, another one of the dog’s victims, Muhammad Aijaz, narrated that the mad female dog had first slashed its paws across his chest, leaving deep scratches, and then bitten him in the darkness of the night, while he was returning home.
Corroborating Aijaz’s account, Taimuri said, “It [the dog] would mainly target the face and chest of the people and continued to terrorise the entire locality for several hours.
Besides Aijaz, residents who were bitten by the dog include Abdul Ghafoor and his family, including his mother, wife and son, Zain, Shahrukh, Khan Sahab Afghani, Muhammad Anwar, Muhammad Akbar and others.
The dog-victims were rushed to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital for vaccination.
However, much to their disappointment, doctors at the hospital could do little to cure their malady, due to the non-availability of anti-rabies vaccine (ARV).
Despite persistent hue and cry over the rise in rabies cases and acute shortage of ARV at government hospitals, the shortfall has continued, hampering the treatment of dog-bite patients. Consequently, residents of FC Area were too denied treatment last night.
They were left with little choice but to purchase vaccines from local pharmacies at much higher prices than what they would have to pay at public health facilities.
However, speaking on the issue, Sindh Minister for Labour, Information and Archives Saeed Ghani said that all victims of dog-bite on Monday went to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, adding that the hospital works under the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and it was the KMC’s responsibility to provide vaccines there. “The Sindh government tries to send vaccines wherever they are needed,” he said.
Complaining about the situation, one of the disgruntled residents of FC Area said that each dose of the vaccine costs more than Rs1,000 and the vaccination course takes six months to complete. “This means that we will have to continuously spend a considerable amount on the treatment which is unjust,” he said.
The residents complained that usually each dose of ARV costs between Rs750 and Rs800, but the price has increased due to shortfall in the supply of the vaccine.
While dog-bite victims and their families struggled to find a remedy to their problems at the hospital till late at night, other locals, panic-stricken and armed with sticks, remained busy in an hours-long search of the female dog. However, they had to wait till the next day until they were assured that their predicament had ended.
The locals were joined by police and Rangers personnel in their hunt for the dog after they received complaints about a mad dog on a biting spree in FC Area.
According to Sharifabad SHO Amjad Kiyani, police reached the spot as soon as they were informed of the occurrence. However, as the search began, which lasted long into the night without any result, one of the police officials, Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ali Khosa, too became a victim of the frenzied dog and had to be shifted to the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, he said.
With no clue about the dog’s whereabouts the search was temporarily suspended and restarted on Tuesday morning. It was then that the dog was found dead amid the bushes.
The locals confirmed that the body belonged to the dog who had unleashed panic and bitten several people in the area on Monday night.
According to the residents of FC Area, the dog died as a result of firing by Rangers and police during the operation at night.
The corpse was taken by Edhi volunteers, who too participated in the search operation.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Edhi volunteers said that Edhi Foundation has constituted a dedicated team for catching stray dogs, which participated in the operation on Monday night. The team was led by Saad Edhi and the search lasted for about 10 hours, they said.
The volunteers said that the dog’s corpse bore marks of wounds but the actual reason of its death couldn’t be ascertained.
According to Edhi representatives, vaccinate dogs instead of killing them is the right way to control rabies.
Vaccinate, not kill
A similar solution to rabies was proposed during a meeting called by Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani last week.
During the meeting, authorities 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
Addressing the meeting, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at TIH, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, said that projects initiated by the World Health Organisation, World Organisation for Animal Health and United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, 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, could prove to be a relatively ‘humane’ way of decreasing the canine population. Moreover, this might also make the dogs less aggressive, she had said.
All talk no action
However, despite authorities proposing solutions to combat rabies little seems to be done in this regard.
Speaking on the issue, Central District DMC Rehan Hashmi said that though plans are in the making to launch an anti-stray dog campaign but enough resources are not available to initiate the drive. “We are willing to launch the campaign but the Sindh government needs to release funds for it,” he said. He further said that as far as his knowledge goes, killing stray dogs is prohibited by the Sindh government.
Similarly, Union Council Chairman Sajid Musharraf said that while his team is always ready to help the area locals, they are barred from killing a single dog by the provincial government and also needs funds to resolve the issue.
Councillor Sana Fayaz, on the other hand, assured that relevant authorities will be contacted to assist in the launch of the anti-stray dog campaign and also said that a special ward will be set up at Sindh Government Hospital Liaquatabad, for treating dog-bite patients.
Nevertheless, amid claims of launching campaigns and assurances of taking steps to resolve the issue, citizens say that their complaints seem to be falling on deaf ears.
According to FC Area residents, the deputy commissioner, police, Rangers and other relevant authorities were repeatedly informed of the presence of rabid dog on the locality but no action was taken. Expressing concerns, they demanded that Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah take notice of the alarming rise in dog-bite cases and ensure the availability of ARV at public hospitals.
One of the residents, speaking in condition of anonymity, attributed the occurrence to the “criminal negligence of authorities and said that the non-availability of ARV added to the problems of the people. “Now we will also have to bear the hefty expenses of the vaccine and their seems to be no end in sight to our problems,” he lamented.
Rising dog-bite cases
Doctors and administrators at government hospitals in Karachi, and other parts of the province say there is an acute shortage of anti-rabies vaccines. These vaccines are, however, available on the open market. There is no denying that there is a shortage of anti-rabies vaccines in Sindh due to tension with India from where they are imported. The import has stopped because of the tension. Recently, the Sindh health minister said these vaccines were imported also from China. She said now since China had eliminated rabies, it had closed down factories that manufactured anti-rabies vaccines.
Meanwhile, the number of dog-bite cases in Karachi and other parts of the province is rising at an alarming rate. More than 25 dog-bite cases were reported to major hospitals in Karachi on a single day on Oct 14 alone. Liaquatabad topped the list of dog-bite cases. Around 25 victims of dog bite were brought to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, according to the RMO of the hospital. He said anti-rabies vaccine was not available at the hospital, so people bought it from outside.
The main cause of the rise in dog-bite cases is an unstoppable increase in the population of stray dogs in cities, towns and villages of the province. People are demanding of the government to ensure the availability of anti-rabies vaccines at hospitals and to take action to control the population of stray dogs in both urban and rural areas. If victims of dog bite are not administered anti-rabies vaccines in time, they develop hydrophobia which leads to a miserable death. Time and again the authorities have been reminded of the serious situation but so far there is not much evidence that the needful is being done.
It is desirable to control the population of stray dogs by neutering them. However, the delay in taking the required measures once again point to incompetence and corruption. The situation shows incompetence is valued in government circles.
DMCs express helplessness in capturing stray dogs
The Sindh High Court summoned the municipal commissioners of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and the district municipal corporations after the counsel for DMCs said that they were helpless regarding detention and control of stray dogs.
The SHC also issued a show-cause notice to the additional secretary of the local government department over his absence and directed the health secretary to be in attendance on the next hearing.
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, was hearing a petition about stray dogs and shortage of anti-rabies vaccines at all government-run hospitals in the province.
On Wednesday, additional health secretary Imran Bhatti filed a reply to a show-cause notice issued to him in the previous hearing.
Mr Bhatti in a statement placed before the bench also submitted that 17,837 anti-rabies vaccines and 11,855 snake antivenom were available in different hospitals of the province including the provincial metropolis, adding that this update was received a day before from the hospitals.
The bench directed him to provide the copy of the statement to the petitioner to go through the same and file the reply.
The bench said that the issue was the detention and control of street/stray dogs and counsel for DMCs wanted further time to file a reply, but they had not given any clear answer to the bench as to why the DMCs had failed to perform their duties.
They said that they were helpless because of a financial crunch. They further stated that the old vehicles for detaining dogs were in possession of the KMC and not delivered to the respective DMCs for performing their duties.
At this juncture, the lawyer for the KMC informed the bench that old vehicles were not in running condition and therefore, no useful purpose could be served from such vehicles. The counsel also complained that the KMC was facing shortage of funds.
The bench found additional LG secretary absent and issued a show-cause notice to him asking him to appear in person on the next date with an explanation. It also asked the health secretary to be in attendance on Oct 22.
It also asked the municipal commissioner of the KMC as well as the municipal commissioners of all the six DMCs of the city to appear in person on the next date of hearing.
In the last hearing, the KMC submitted that the function of detention and control of street/stray dogs had been assigned to the DMCs.
Petitioner Advocate Tariq Mansoor submitted that Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho had given a statement before the provincial assembly that more than 92,000 dog-bite cases had been reported from across Sindh till June 30 this year and that there was a shortage of anti-rabies vaccine due to the ongoing tension with India and the closure of a Chinese company’s operation.
He maintained that dog-bite incidents had been on the rise due to the failure of the provincial and local administrations to tackle the situation as stray dogs had not been dealt with, and on the other hand anti-rabies vaccines were not available at the government-run hospitals.
The petitioner sought a direction for the provincial and local governments to take necessary steps for vaccination, detention and control of the population of stray dogs as per the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.