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Sterlising the rabies poison in dogs’ bite

By Staff Writer

In February this year a tragic incidence occurred when Mwatitha Jickson (deceased) was mauled by six stray dogs on her way to sought medical services at a nearby clinic, where she wanted to access vaccine for her third born child.

The incident happened in Chilota Village in Traditional Authority Njewa close to old airport along the Lilongwe – Kasiya dusty road. The husband Samuel Jickson told the media while in hospital that her wife was attacked by a pack of six stray dogs whose owner has not been identified to date. She was only rescued from the vicious and ruthless dogs by a bicycle taxi operator, who upon hearing calls for help rushed to the scene to aid her release.

The child sustained wounds in various parts of the body, but they were immediately treated upon arrival at Kamuzu Central Hospital. Medical specialists also offered Rabies post exposure prophylaxis [anti – rabies] drugs and reports indicated that there was improvement but sadly the mother died upon arrival at the medical facility.

In the wake of such developments and many other human threatening cases the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development and Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care of Animal (LSPCA) has been offering veterinary related services that include rabies vaccination, free spay and neuter (sterilizations) to reduce stray dog population in the city.

“We have been conducting stray dog population management program which is aimed at sterilizing, rabies vaccination to increase the number of vaccinated dogs in Lilongwe while at the same time reducing the number of unwanted puppy births. After sterilization and vaccination the dogs are marked using an environmentally friendly paint for easy identification,” says a joint stray dog population management program statement by LSPCA and the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development.

Richard Ssuna, LSPCA Program Director says in a separate interview that the annual rabies vaccination intervention has seen over 35,000 dogs and surgically sterilised over 5,000 of them. He adds that close to MK150m has been invested in only the free community sterilisation clinics the last three years.

In February this year LSPCA commemorated the World Spay Day with the de-worming, rabies vaccination and surgical sterilisation of over 300 dogs in Area 23 in Lilongwe. The German based Welttierschutzgeselleschaft (WTG) supported the local initiative aimed at addressing canine and feline populations that have exceeded the capacity of local community to properly care for.  

"Sterilizing street dogs and returning them to their territories on the streets allows for a natural reduction in their population over time and leaves the most socialized dogs on the streets. Sterilizing pets prevents them from contributing to the problem of street animal, over population and invariably controls the rabies prevalence in human occupied areas," Ssuna said in reference to the day.

At least 90 percent of human rabies cases worldwide result from domestic dog bites according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Rabies is an infection of the central nervous system with an incubation period of anywhere from one week to almost one year after exposure, resulting typically from a bite from an infected animal.

The actual disease is no laughing matter either. The symptoms can include generalized weakness and flu-like symptoms followed by “anxiety, confusion, agitation delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations” resulting in death. Rabies globally claims 55,000 lives annually with the majority being kids below the age of 15.

Those victims that survive bites from rabid animals have to live with horrific physical and emotional scars that cannot be treated the rest of their lives.

Stray dogs are a serious animal welfare and public health concern as they are a source of uncontrolled breeding and a reservoir of rabies, a deadly disease to humans. As such control of stray dog’s population will greatly reduce the number of rabies prevalence in human occupied areas.

LSPCA plans to sterilize 70 percent of the target community, as such people are being urged to take part in the program and ensure all the dogs are vaccinated. The weekly community outreach are done on Tuesday and Wednesday and the public is being encouraged to bring the dogs at designated sites for instance Area 23 Police Unit ground where diagnosis and treatment is offered free of charge by a team of specialized veterinary experts.

During an evaluation and monitoring session on the progress of the intervention one community leader Davis Safiano Matola in Area 23 said in an interview he received the mobile veterinary services wholeheartedly.

“I must admit that there has been drastic decline in cases of rabies and even stray dogs in my area at the moment. This has come about as a result of continued interventions that are being spearheaded by LSPCA specialised staff offering a wide range of services to the community around here. This has resulted in reduced cases of rabies and stray dogs, which are a thing of the past,” he said in an interview at his home in Area 23 during the evaluation process.

Another resident Keith Sakusa said that there have been changes noticed since the clinics commenced. He added that he was very pleased when the global Spay Day was fully dedicated to residents of Area 23 who brought their dogs and cats to be vaccinated for rabies, sterilised and also screened for other challenges as well.

The other danger said another Area 23 resident, is coming from the pets that are traded along the roads; it is difficult to ascertain whether they are rabies free or not. The fact that LSPCA reaches us here in our community and offer these services is therefore a step in the right direction.

Rabies control is primarily a public good. The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development under Livestock and Animal Health has been mounting weekly anti-rabies campaign from 2004 through 2008 says Julius Chulu, Chief Animal Health Officer and renowned Micro-biologist based at the Central Veterinary laboratory in Lilongwe.

Chulu said from 2009 the period was extended to one month to allow many people to have their domesticated pets vaccinated. During this period all dogs brought to the vaccination centre are administered drugs for free. The event is given prominence through coverage on radio, television, print media including banners and posters that are posted on strategic locations.

“Although the period was extended to one month, the number of dogs vaccinated does not reach the required 100 percent. This is due to inadequate human, physical and financial resources and some owners do not bring their dogs deliberately,” says Chulu in response to a questionnaire.

He added that there is collaboration with LSPCA, the Police and Judiciary across the country to raise the profile on animal welfare through enforcing the Protection of Animal Act. Animal welfare has also being included in the curriculum at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the veterinary school. Similar efforts are also being spearheaded as part of studies for pupils learning in primary schools.

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