Pakistan faces acute shortage of Anti-Rabies Vaccine


By Nasir Aijaz
AsiaN Correspondent

Islamabad: Pakistan has been facing acute shortage of anti-rabies vaccine (ARV) by some 800,000 dosages amid a growing population of stray dogs and almost non-existence of facilities in the rural parts of Sindh and other provinces to face the challenge.

By the end of June, more than 92,000 dog-bite cases were reported at government hospitals while eleven deaths were confirmed officially till July-end with addition of death of another teen-age boy who succumbed to rabies in his mother’s lap in rural Sindh district a few days back.

Though the health practitioners and officials believe that the entire country was running short of the ARV, the situation in Sindh is turning worst as in Karachi alone, the largest city of country, more than 150 dog-bite cases are being reported to major city hospitals daily.

However, no move is seen on ground for the prevention of the menace and control of the population of stray dogs in the metropolis and rural areas of the province.

In Karachi, Dr. Seemi Jamali, Executive Director of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, one of the largest public sector hospitals, also confirmed the shortage of vaccines, which makes the situation more depressing.

“So far we have received over 6,000 cases of dog bite and recorded six deaths due to rabies in Karachi alone. Last year, we registered more than 7,500 patients of dog bites and the number of deaths stood at nine,” said Dr. Jamali.

“We have been treating 30 to 40 dog-bite cases daily,” said Dr Naseem Salahuddin, head of infectious diseases at the Indus Hospital Karachi. As anti-rabies vaccine is not available anywhere in the interior of Sindh, cases from rural parts of the province are referred to Karachi’s major hospitals.”

The hospitals cite a severe shortage of the ARV in the country as a major reason preventing proper treatment of the victims. The people associated with the vaccine imports point out reasons for the shortage.

Poor planning and price centric approach have started causing shortage of vaccines, anti-rabies being the recent case, it has been learnt. Since most vaccines are imported in finished form, any supply disruptions can impact its availability to the patients.

Most of these vaccines are biological and have specialized nature of manufacturing and there are few manufacturers around the world that cater to the global demand for the same, health experts said.

The government issues a tender of one million anti rabies vaccines to cater public need every year; however, only around 300,000 were sourced due to high global demand and manufacturers put Pakistan on low priority due to irrational pricing policy.

According to official statement, Sindh used to buy ARV from a Chinese company, which has stopped business, as China has eradicated rabies while the government is unable to import the vaccine from India due to ongoing tensions between Pakistan and India.

Dr. Azra Pechuho, the minister of Sindh for health, said 92,159 cases of dog bites had been reported from across the province till June 30 while the hospitals had only 6,029 vials of vaccine in stock.

“The Chinese company from where we would purchase this vaccine has been closed down because rabies had been eradicated in China. From India, we cannot get this vaccine at present because of serious constraints over Kashmir issue,” she said recently during a provincial assembly session.

“The increasing population of dogs is much graver problem in our urban areas since cities host congested populations that could not live when so many stray dogs were roaming free in our neighbourhoods. This issue has turned into a menace now.”

She told around 69,000 cases of dog bite had been reported in Sindh last year.

A member of provincial assembly Muhammad Ali Aziz said more than 250,000 stray dogs were in Karachi alone.

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