In the past decade there has been an alarming increase in the rabies carrying stray dog population in Kashmir. Correspondingly, more than a hundred dog bite cases are reported everyday in hospitals. Many of them have died after contracting rabies. Shams Irfan reports an almost out of control situation.
On 12th of February 2010, a five-year-old boy Danish Dar, from Achabal Islamabad, was attacked by a pack of stray dogs when he was going to a playground near his house. He was bitten on his face and head.The boy was rushed to the district hospital Islamabad, where he was given anti rabies jab and sent home. But soon after, the boy showed symptoms of Hydrophobia [fear of water] and his parents brought him to SMHS hospital in Srinagar, where he was kept in an isolation ward. Two days later Danish died.
According to records at Anti-Rabies Clinic of SMHS hospital, 12 dog bite-related deaths occurred in the last three years alone. In last three and a half years, the hospital received an alarming 53, 925 dog bite cases from different parts of Kashmir. Most of these cases were Class III category in which a patient has one or more bites, deep scratches etc.
Over the years, the number of dogs in Kashmir has multiplied rapidly. According to independent estimatesal most a hundred thousand dogs roam freely in packs on the streets of Srinagar city alone, and a large number of them carry rabies.
“If not tackled soon, the dog menace will spread like a plague and in next five years there will be more dogs than humans in Srinagar city,” said Dr. Mohammad Salim Khan, Assistant Professor at Social Preventive Medicine Department SMHS hospital. “On an average a single female dog can reproduce 12 times in her short life span of 12 to 14 years,” said Dr. Salim. It has been estimated that two dogs can multiply to over 300 in a short span of three years.
According to 2011 census there are 12,69,751 people living within the limits of Srinagar municipality. The dog human ratio in Srinagar is 1:14, which is alarmingly high compared to the national average of 1:36 [dog:humans].
In Kashmir dogs grow on a very high protein diet of non-vegetarian food waste, which is generally dumped around the street corners. According to Srinagar Municipal Corporation’s [SMC] official website, more than 380 metric tons of garbage and waste is generated every day in Srinagar city. While 60 per cent of that waste is tackled by SMC, the rest literally goes to the dogs.
Speaking at a seminar on the World Rabies Day, 2011 at SMHS, Dr Salim, suggested culling of canines in order to save the human population in Kashmir. However, speaking later at the same event Minister for Medical Education, R S Chib, stressed the need to find an alternate way.“We cannot kill them all. Vaccination and sterilization of stray dogs in Kashmir is the best way out,”the minister said.
The data collected from Srinagar’s SMHS hospital shows an alarming increase in number of dog bite related cases over the years. In 2003, only 437 dog bite-related cases were received at SMHS’s Anti Rabies Clinic.The numbers almost doubled in 2004 at 802 cases.According to hospital officials, 2005 was the busiest year in terms of dog bite-related cases as 4204 people with dog bites came to SMHS hospital, which means more than 100 fresh cases every day.
“From 2005 onwards the dog menace has gripped the valley completely. Since then the daily patient inflow never dropped to less than a hundred fresh cases each day,” said Muhammad Yousuf Dar, a pharmacist who maintains records of the patients treated at ARC.
In 2006, according to SMHS records, 3200 dog bite cases were recorded at its Anti Rabies Clinic, while 4155 cases came in 2007;3772 in 2008;3960 in 2009;3711 in 2010 and 3527 in 2011 tillend of August. “This data is from this hospital only. We have no knowledge of other hospitals where a huge number of cases are treated annually,” said Nazir Ahmad Mir, who is in charge of Isolation Ward and also the lone male nurse at the Anti Rabies Clinic.