The report on the incidents of deaths caused by dog bites across Punjab, and the revelation within of over 80 percent of healthcare institutions lacking the crucial Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV) in the province paints a gloomy picture on the situation of healthcare. Bites by stray dogs have led to the deaths of 11 people in Punjab and injured over 3000 in the first ten months of this year. The provincial government is clearly clueless about this issue; the fact that most hospitals and other healthcare facilities do not have the ARV – this includes some teaching hospitals as well – means that this issue has completely slipped under the regime’s radar.

This has information has now been brought to the attention of the Chief Minister of the province, but without a clear-cut animal control programme, one that might even need legislation to create a body that looks after such affairs, we can expect the government to appoint hired gunmen to start a massive culling drive, which has been seen before in cities like Karachi. However, culling dogs en masse is clearly not the answer. Providing ARVs to hospitals and other health centres urgently should be prioritised above all other steps, however. Hospitals should be mandated to carry ample amounts of the vaccine and this expense should be taken out from their budget, thin as it may be. The government can subsidise the medicine if that plays a factor in this, but for hospitals to not have a treatment for a disease that is very much treatable is almost criminal.

Many will have to be put down, but in order to prevent the spread of rabies in Punjab, an animal control department is needed, one that ensures that stray dogs do not overbreed and are healthy enough to roam the streets, if that is the policy that the government continues moving forward. If the government is planning on removing stray dogs from cities step-by-step, it should know that a mass killing spree is not really the answer. Apart from the obvious brutality associated with such a step, stray dogs in cities do help in keeping vermin like rats and other pests controlled, which is not the case with cities in developed countries.

There will be unexpected changes resulting from removing an entire species from our streets, which is why it is hoped that the government thinks about what it wants to do before making a concrete decision on the next step forward.