Rabies in Karachi

Stray dog attacks are on the rise, according to media reports. The plight of the injured locals and their families does not end when they reach the closest hospital since a shortage of the rabies vaccine, only exacerbates their anxiety over the sudden predicament.

For instance, Shahrukh, a resident of Liaquatabad, encountered a similar situation when his eight year old son was bitten by a dog. “I had to rush him to the emergency at the Abbassi Shaheed Hospital, where there was no vaccine available for rabies.”

According to Javed Qureshi, a senior journalist, the abundance of stray dogs lurking around different areas of Karachi including Lyari, Baldia Town, Liaquatabad, Sher Shah, Orangi Town, Malir, North Karachi and Kemari, has reached an alarmingly high level, due to which the citizens are worried.

The local bodies had claimed that work would be done on a scientific basis to stop the uncontrolled breeding of wild dogs, but this matter has also been postponed. Moreover, many government hospitals do not have access to the medications required for treating dog bites.

So far, the local authorities have been unable to devise a policy for curbing the breeding of stray dogs in Karachi. Special units for the treatment of dog bites must be set up in all government hospitals on an urgent basis.

Expanding on the matter, Dr Romana Farhat, Head of Anti-rabies Management Planning at the Civil Hospital, warned that a dog bite can lead to a fatal rabies infection in case the wound is not immediately treated, and a vaccine is not available. “Once infected by the rabies virus, the patient’s body starts to change. Their eyes turn red and sensitive, and they also develop a fever. Death is highly likely if the rabies virus is transmitted to the human body and treatment is not given” explained Dr Farhat, who added that treating a dog bite costs anywhere between Rs1000 to Rs7000.

“Our hospital does not have access to the anti-rabies vaccine. Therefore, when an infected patient comes to the hospital, they have to arrange the vaccine themselves,” confirmed the Medical Superintendent at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

The lack of access of hospitals to the anti-rabies vaccine is evident in the high number of patients who developed rabies after a dog bite. As per a report by the Indus Hospital, in 2023, 13,000 people were diagnosed with rabies, out of which five died during treatment.

Similarly, according to Dr Khalid Bukhari, Dr Nausheen, and Dr Atiq, respective representatives of the Civil Hospital, Jinnah Hospital and Liaquatabad Hospital, a total of 26,460 cases of rabies were reported in 2023.

Speaking on the matter, Samira Hussain, the Project Director of the Rabies Control Program said, “Three centers have been set up in Karachi to control the population of stray dogs. A scientific method involving the usage of special injections, will be adopted to stop the breeding of stray dogs.”

She said that central to the issue is the acute shortage of rabies immunoglobulin. This poses a substantial risk to public health, prompting the need for immediate, decisive measures to effectively address the crisis.

To contend with the shortage of rabies medication in public sector hospitals, the government must prioritize the expeditious procurement and distribution of this life-saving serum. Collaborative efforts with international organizations and pharmaceutical entities are essential to streamline the import process, ensuring timely availability for all dog-bite patients. However, rectifying the immediate shortage alone is insufficient. A holistic approach is imperative to address the underlying causes of the surge in dog-bite incidents. Intensifying public awareness campaigns is crucial to educate citizens on responsible pet ownership and emphasize the importance of seeking prompt medical attention after a dog bite. The establishment of a comprehensive database to monitor and track reported dog-bite cases is a fundamental aspect of this multifaceted approach. This data-driven strategy will empower the government to make informed decisions, allocate resources judiciously and implement targeted interventions in high-risk areas. Concurrently, additional training for healthcare professionals on rabies management protocols is essential. Regular workshops and seminars can equip medical staff with the requisite skills to provide timely and effective treatment, including the administration of the vaccine.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement recently voiced serious concerns over the increasing number of dog-bite incidents in Karachi and the unavailability of vaccines in both government and private hospitals.

In a joint statement, the MQM MPAs highlighted the escalating occurrences of these incidents, emphasizing the lack of access to the dog-bite vaccine.

They stated that despite the Pakistan Peoples Party’s 15-year rule in Sindh, it has miserably failed to provide the necessary dog-bite vaccine, showcasing clear incompetence on its part. They said that it only talks but lacks competence to do any substantial work.

Demanding urgent action, they urged the PPP government to safeguard the people of Karachi from dog-bite incidents. They emphasized that the citizens in Karachi, who contribute significantly through taxes, deserve immediate attention and measures to ensure the availability of vaccines in government hospitals. They otherwise threatened to bring thousands of stray dogs in front of Bilawal House as a protest.

The recent escalation in dog-bite cases has brought to light a critical public health concern that necessitates urgent and strategic intervention. The prevailing condition demands a proactive response from the government which probably is too much to ask in the current situation.

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