As Challa Babu pleaded with doctors to save him, the medical staff
and his parents watched helplessly. The 16-year-old lost the
battle to rabies, a disease that has claimed at least 13 lives in
one month in Andhra Pradesh.
These were among more than 13,000 cases of dog bite reported in
hospitals across the state, where people are blaming lack of
vaccines for the crisis.
People across the state were shocked as news channels beamed the
horrific visuals of the boy's last moments at a government-run
hospital in Khammam town recently.
Hundreds of cases of dog bites come in to hospitals every day. The
painful and heart-rending deaths, some of them caused by the
reported non-availability of rabies vaccine in government
hospitals, have so terrified people that some are thinking twice
before stepping out of their houses.
As hordes of stray dogs are roaming the streets in towns and
villages across the state, health and municipal authorities appear
clueless on how to tackle the menace.
Every day, hundreds of people, including a large number of
children, are approaching hospitals with bleeding wounds caused by
street dogs. In a few cases, the dogs have gone on a biting spree,
injuring 30 to 50 people.
Infants with grievous wounds on their faces, hands and other parts
of the body are being brought to hospitals every day.
According to health officials, over 13,000 people were bitten by
stray dogs in the last one week. While the state has been
reporting 30 to 50 deaths due to rabies every year, the number of
dog bites reported in recent days is unprecedented.
In East Godavari district, which has reported nine deaths so far,
people are standing in long queues outside government hospitals to
take anti-rabies vaccine.
"People who are receiving the vaccines are lucky because those
sent back by the hospital staff citing non-availability of the
vaccines have met a horrible fate," Purna Rao, an agriculturist in
East Godavari district, told IANS.
Complaints are so rampant in towns like Rajahmundry and Kakinada
that the medical staff is turning people away. "Since the vaccine
costs Rs.3,000 to Rs.5,000 in private hospitals, many people with
dog bites can't afford it," he said.
The government has, however, denied that there is a shortage of
vaccines and claims that over 700,000 vaccines are available.
"The deaths are mainly due to the fact that people are not
approaching government hospitals immediately for vaccine and are
depending on quacks or some home remedies," state Health Minister
D.L. Ravindra Reddy told IANS.
People are also complaining about lack of serious efforts and
coordination among municipal bodies, animal husbandry and health
departments to tackle the problem.
According to officials, there are over a million stray dogs in the
state, which means there is one dog for every 77 human beings. The
municipal authorities are reluctant to control the canine
population by killing them in view of the cases filed by some NGOs
in the past, accusing them of cruelty to animals.
"I had never faced this situation. I am afraid to step out of the
house even during day time. Even if you are on a bike, they will
chase you," said P. Naveen, a student in Rajahmundry, where four
people died of rabies.
Last year the state had reported 20 deaths due to rabies. In 2008,
the figure was 42, but the highest figure -- 113 -- in the last
one decade was recorded during 2005.
The health authorities in the state are worried over shortening of
the incubation period. The people bitten by dogs are developing
rabies symptoms in 15 days to one month against the usual
incubation period of six months to one year.
The early symptoms of rabies are fever, headache and weakness.
Later these lead to insomnia, partial paralysis, excitation,
hallucinations, difficulty in swallowing, and hydrophobia or fear
According to experts, there is nothing a doctor can do after a
person develops rabies and he dies a painful death. The only way
to prevent rabies is to get vaccinated immediately after the dog
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 35,000
people die of rabies in India every year - accounting for about 81
percent of global deaths. About 96 percent of rabies deaths are
caused by dog bites. In no other country in the world do such
large numbers die of rabies.
There is no reported case of survival of a person affected by
rabies and considering the pathetic state of the patient, death is
often seen as the only solution.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be email@example.com)