India is far behind Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in rabies prevention -Lakshmi Venkataraman
For a country with more free-roaming dogs than the entire population of Australia, India fares poorly in tackling rabies
Arnav, the seven-year-old son of a Mumbai police constable, suffered serious bites on his face and body by a rabid dog in 2018. He was taken to four different hospitals before being properly diagnosed; he passed away shortly after. His case is just one among the 20,000 annual canine-origin human rabies deaths in India, the highest in the world. Only six people have survived the infection in India since 2010. Thus, India has seen its share of anti-dog sentiments, evident in the dog-culling campaigns in Kerala and in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh.
For a country that has more free-roaming dogs than the population of Australia, India has a poor system for rabies prevention. The good news, however, is that the disease is preventable with minor changes to public policy. The solution should begin with the vaccination of dogs against rabies, jointly executed by government agencies. There is no legal mandate in India for anti-rabies vaccinations, which would shield street dogs from contracting rabies. Instead, ‘animal birth control’ — the mass sterilization of street dogs to ensure their long-term population decline — is the status quo solution. However, sterilized dogs can still bite people, passing on the virus to humans and other animals. The Union health ministry continues to subsidize extremely expensive post-bite treatment for patients. These expenses should instead be directed toward animal vaccination, which has proved to be around 100 times cheaper and more effective in Asia.
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