Arjun Poudel, The Kathmandu Post, February 04, 2019
Despite Nepal committing to achieve the goal of eliminating cases of dog-transmitted rabies by 2030, a target set by the World Health Organization, hundreds of people are contracting the virus in Kathmandu.
Government officials say the target is not something that cannot be achieved, but they are sceptical about the progress that has been made till date.
According to Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, the only infectious disease hospital based in Teku, the number of dog bites in recent years has gone up sharply in Kathmandu. According to the hospital, it receives around 350 to 400 patients of dog bites every day. “Every day, 350 to 400 dog bite patients visit our hospital,” said Sankar Pandey, in-charge of out-patient department of the hospital. According to him, every month 9,000 to 9,500 dog bite patients get anti-rabies vaccine administered from the hospital. The figure does not include those who go to private clinics and hospitals for anti-rabies vaccines.
The viral rabies is also a fatal illness. Only this month, three people admitted to Sukraraj hospital have died during the course of treatment, Pandey told the Post. All of them were found infected with rabies virus, according to the hospital administration. The hospital said that the victims were a 19-year-old woman from Bara, a 38-year-old woman from Solukhumbu and a 30-year-old-man from Sankhu, Kathmandu. They were bitten by dogs and had not received anti-rabies vaccines.
Officials say there is still a lack of awareness among people about rabies as a deadly disease, hence they tend to not take immediate action when they are bitten by dogs. Another reason why people are hesitant to get vaccines is because they do not come cheap. A vial of vaccine costs around Rs500. To enable people to avail of such vaccines, the hospital said that government health facilities have been administering the vaccine for free.
To buy anti-rabies vaccines for the ongoing fiscal year, the government has allocated Rs100 million. The Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said it had bought anti-rabies vaccines worth Rs70 million in the previous fiscal year alone.
Despite efforts being made, Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, chief of the zoonosis unit of the EDCD, pointed that the lack of collaboration and coordination between the different stakeholders is the reason for the slow progress in reducing rabies infection. “Achieving the 2030 target of zero deaths from rabies is possible, but all concerned stakeholders need to work in tandem” said Adhikari.
According to him, the Ministry of Health and Population provides anti-rabies vaccines and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestocks Development of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City administers anti-rabies vaccine to dogs. The management of stray dogs is the responsibility of the local governments. “These different agencies need to work in close coordination,” he said.
Hari Bahadur Bhandari, chief of Agriculture and Livestock Department of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the body responsible for the management of stray dogs in the Capital, said his department had assigned an NGO to administer anti-rabies vaccines to street dogs .
According to the zoonosis unit of the EDCD, as many as 26,312 people, who were bitten by dogs, were administered anti-rabies vaccines at government health facilities throughout the country last fiscal year. Among them, 32 had died of rabies.
Rabies, according to the World Health Organisation, causes 59,000 agonising and painful deaths globally every year, one person every nine minute, mostly children and the poor. The disease while is fatal it is 100 preventable if access to vaccines and life-saving treatment in the event of dog bites.