Thursday Sep 23, 2021
KARACHI: Culling stray dogs to control the spread of rabies should be the "last resort", said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, pointing out other humane methods to control the spread of the disease.
The prime minister's aide was speaking during a webinar Wednesday on World Rabies Day 2021 where he said taking the life of a living being was against ethical and religious principles.
"Vaccinating and sterilising is the humane and, therefore, the preferred approach but given the scale of the challenge, at times a mix of strategies may have to be employed in tackling very compelling public health threats," he noted.
Dr Sultan agreed to enhance the list of notifiable diseases across the country to include Rabies in it as well so that accurate stats related to cases all over Pakistan can be obtained.
He said that the National Health Data Center at the NIH would also begin surveillance of the disease in this regard.
Dr Sultan disclosed that he has an "excellent working relationship" with provincial health ministers Dr Azra Pechuho from Sindh, Dr Yasmin Rashid from Punjab, KP health minister Taimur Jhagra, Balochistan health minister as well as the health authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.
He said this was partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had provided the opportunity for the government to have strong working relationships with provincial authorities.
Managing Director Getz Pharma Khalid Mahmood spoke during the webinar as well, shedding light on the fact that hundreds of kids die each year from Rabies alone in Pakistan.
He said that the population of stray dogs was estimated to be 15 million across Pakistan, adding that of these, 2.5 million were present in Sindh alone. Mahmood vowed to end the dreaded disease through humane methods like vaccination and sterilising the dogs in the coming years.
DG Health Pakistan Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar revealed that dog-bite cases across the country were "grossly underreported". He said that on average, half-a-million people are bitten by stray dogs, adding that up to 5,000 people die every year due to Rabies encephalitis in Pakistan, which is also an under-reported figure.
"Pakistan is currently at stage 1.5 out of 5 according to the Stepwise Approach towards Rabies Elimination (SARE). Punjab and Sindh are the most-affected provinces with respect to dog bite incidents and Rabies encephalitis cases," he said.
Pointing out the huge gap in the demand and supply of Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV), Dr Safdar maintained that according to a study carried out in 2018-19 only 55% of dog bite victims completed vaccination.
He called for creating awareness among people and the healthcare workers about Anti-Rabies Vaccination to ensure prevention from Rabies encephalitis.
Executive Director NIH Major General Aamir Ikram said as per estimates, around one million doses of the Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV) are required as 3,000-5,000 people die every year due to Rabies encephalitis and vowed to meet the growing national vaccine needs by ramping up production at the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad.
Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the head of the Department for Infectious Diseases, called for using three doses of ARV intradermally within a week of a dog bite and ensuring availability of immunoglobulin that should be injected immediately around the dog bite wound.
She said washing the wound thoroughly with water and soap reduces the chances of Rabies by 30%.