Special assistant to the P.M. on Health says vaccinating, sterilizing dogs is more humane and should be preferred to combat rabies
Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan on Wednesday described the practice of dog culling to control the spread of rabies as a “last resort,” noting that taking any life was unethical and in violation of religious principles.
“Vaccinating and sterilizing is the humane and, therefore, 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 told a webinar marking World Rabies Day 2021.
District governments nationwide often resort to mass culling of stray dogs, shooting dead or poisoning thousands of animals every year in a bid to control the spread of diseases and reduce the country’s stray population—estimated to be in excess of 15 million. The practice has become increasingly controversial, with animal rights groups urging the government to adopt trap-neuter-return programs to stabilize stray numbers through population control. In 2019, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province said it would start sterilizing dogs in Peshawar, while last month the Punjab government said it would also sterilize thousands of dogs and has claimed legislation would soon be tabled to adopt this measure.
During his speech, Dr. Sultan agreed to include rabies to Pakistan’s list of notifiable diseases so accurate stats could be compiled on its spread in the country. He said the National Health Data Center at the National Institute of Health would also begin surveillance of the disease.
Several other officials and stakeholders addressed the webinar and urged the government to help curb the spread of rabies though humane measures. Getz Pharma Managing Director Khalid Mahmood lamented that hundreds of children die of rabies annually in Pakistan, adding that there were an estimated 2.5 million stray dogs in Sindh alone.
Director General Health Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar claimed that dog-bite cases were grossly underreported across Pakistan, adding that on average 500,000 people were bitten by stray dogs annually. He said up to 5,000 people across the country died due to rabies every year and regretted that a study in 2018-19 had found that only 55 percent of dog bite victims completed rabies vaccination.
The webinar was organized by Rabies Free Pakistan, a joint venture of Getz Pharma Pvt. Ltd. And Indus Hospital and Health Network. The group claims to have vaccinated over 30,000 dogs and neutered around 7,000 dogs since it started its operations in 2018.