Dogs that biteThe problem of rabies has to do with lack of management.
There is no stopping Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli from making tongue-in-cheek remarks no matter how badly his political game is faring. It was no surprise when he took the reference of a rabid dog while taking a jab at his party rival Madhav Kumar Nepal. Responding to Nepal’s claim that he had been offered the prime ministership by Oli, the latter said he would have to be bitten by a rabid dog to make such an offer to the former.
At one fell swoop, Oli managed to lower the debate of the already petty party politics while also stigmatising the mental health of human’s best friend—the dog. Our interest today is not in the ideological tussle between the twin top leaders of the CPN-UML. They have anyway been bow-wowing each other for a long time now. Our concern is with how a dog remains a subject of fear and loathing even as authorities look the other way when it comes to managing stray dogs.
Dogs contribute almost 99 percent of human rabies deaths globally, running in the tens of thousands. The fact that almost 95 percent of the rabies deaths occur in poorer countries of Asia and Africa explains how the problem of rabies has to do with lack of management rather than the disease itself. As per the World Health Organisation, rabies causes an estimated cost of $8.6 billion per year globally for want of proper preventive measures against the virus.
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease. As per a study, around 30,000 livestock and 300,000 humans get vaccinated against the virus in Nepal as a prophylactic measure. But still, almost 32 people and 500 animals die of the disease each year in recent times. That, though, is a gross underestimate as a significant number of deaths in both humans and animals in Nepal are considered to be underreported. The lack of proper veterinary services and health centres across the country means that rabies continues to be a threat to the population.
That must change. Although Nepal has made some progress in creating awareness about the viral zoonosis caused by dog bite—as well as other animals including monkeys, bats and jackals—over the years, the country still lacks a systematic national rabies control strategy. Resultantly, much of the prevention and management of rabies falls on local bodies and hospitals. Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, for instance, is reported to receive almost 150 individual visits for anti-rabies vaccination annually.
Rapid urbanisation in many parts of the country has led to an increase of stray dogs, as it provides them with the food they require to sustain themselves. In some cases, even dog owners resort to abandoning their pets when they show abnormal behaviour if not kill them altogether. As a result, dogs turn stray, come into contact with rabid dogs on the street, and turn hostile to humans. With this, incidences of human-dog conflict increase. Even as various non-profit organisations continue to provide much-needed support to manage street dogs, local units cannot remain passive when it comes to taking care of the canines. It is part of our social responsibility to look after the animals that look after us. Stigmatising them is not the way to go.