Poor awareness, expensive treatment responsible for 5,000 annual deaths from Rabies


ISLAMABAD: Rabies causes around 5,000 deaths annually in Pakistan mainly due to the lack of awareness regarding the disease and the expensive treatment, as only first dose is given in government hospitals and the rest of the four to five doses have to be bought.

A senior official in Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination told Pakistan Today that if a person has rabies, then there is no cure with risk of imminent death.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease that spreads to people through close contact with infected saliva via bites or scratches by animals.

According to Global Alliance for Rabies Control, worldwide, over 59,000 people die of rabies every year and millions have to seek life-saving treatment.

The official said that dogs are a major source of human rabies deaths; however rabies can spread through monkeys and jackals too hence kids shall not play with monkeys on the street.

The official said that a total of five injections are needed for rabies treatment; however the government hospitals gave only the first dose immediately after dog bite and the rest of the doses have to be bought and one extra dose can be arranged on request.

He said that these injections are immunoglobulin and 4 doses can cost between Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000.

He said that the hospitals did not provide the injections and vaccines to the patients free of cost; however if the patient is poor these can be arranged from Baitul maal.

The official said that the rabies patients were discharged after the first dose and there is a need to kept the patient in intensive care.

The World Rabies Day is observed every year on September 28 to raise awareness about rabies prevention. In this connection the National Institute of Health (NIH) also organised a series of awareness seminars for the students of different universities of Rawalpindi/ Islamabad with the theme of “Share the Message: Save a life”.

The executive director along with all staff, students of College of Medical Laboratories Technology (CMLT), senior officers of the institute and World Health Organisation (WHO) officers/ consultants participated in the seminar. The Mobile Unit of NIH was sent to distribute printed awareness material to the educational institutes and the general public.

Executive Director Brig Dr Aamer Ikram said that recently Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination along with NIH notified rabies as a ‘priority zoonotic disease’.

“Now we are in process to establish a surveillance system for the reporting of rabies cases all over the country,” he said.

He also emphasised on the need for provincial coordination in the elimination of rabies.

Talking about the role of NIH, he said that NIH is producing Cell Culture Anti-Rabies Vaccine and Anti-Rabies Serum. This vaccine is supplied to government hospitals and dispensaries throughout the country on a need-basis. He also praised the efforts made by the Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination to strengthen the Public Health System.

An official in NIH said that the NIH did not provide the injections and vaccines to the hospitals free of cost and they purchased the injections.

The official said that NIH is an autonomous body and produced the injections as per demand and sold them on the government prescribed rate.

The NIH just gave test facilities to patients and no injection has been given to dog bite patients, the official added.

The steps that could bring the death rate caused by rabies down include better hygiene, awareness, rabid dogs control, shelter for stray dogs and timely vaccination.