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Government admits high risk of rabies

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Government has admitted that the rise in population of stray dogs in the city streets has put many Malawians at high risk of contracting rabies through dog bites.

Currently, Malawi is home to about 700,000 dogs and 250,000 cats but the figures could be high.

Most of these dogs are usually found wandering the streets and are hardly vaccinated against rabies.

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Speaking when he launched Mission Rabies Malawi’s Anti Rabies Campaign at the weekend in Blantyre, Patrick Chikungwa, who is Deputy Director of Animal Health and Livestock Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, attributed the increase in the population of stray dogs to poor waste management in cities.

“What we have noticed as a department is that, these dogs are usually attracted by the waste that has accumulated in some areas in the cities and apart from that, communities are also failing to take care of their pets because about 97 percent of these dogs are actually owned by someone, so as government, we are engaging communities in responsible ownership of pets to make sure they are taking good care of their pets,” Chikungwa said.

Chikungwa also said government is working with city councils in the country to make sure people keep a manageable number of pets to reduce population of stray dogs in the country.

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He however said government stopped killing stray pets long ago following concerns from animal rights activists.

“The practice of killing stray pets did not work because once you start killing them, they would disperse and run to other places making it even more difficult to control their movement, so we are now working with councils to first of all ensure that waste is properly managed and we are also sensitising the public on the importance of taking care of their dogs,” he said.

Chikungwa also emphasised on the importance of holding campaigns such as the one Mission Rabies has embarked on.

He called upon Malawians to patronise the immunisation campaigns which would take place in Blantyre city and have their pets vaccinated against rabies a disease he described as dangerous.

“It is only through vaccinating our pets that we can control this disease which is currently on the rise,” he said adding that “preventing spread of rabies in pets is actually cheaper as compared to treating the disease in human beings which is very expensive”.

Mission Rabies Malawi’s Research and Epidemiology Manager Andy Gibons said rabies remain a serious problem in the country.

“The solution to eradicate this disease really lies in the hands of the community, if they [communities] are encouraged to take care of their pets, vaccinate them then we can confidently say that rabies will be a thing of the past,” Gibons said.

Statistics indicate that the country records 43 human dog bites every week with children below age 10 topping the list of victims.

At least 160 people in the country die every day due to rabies brought about by dog bites and Malawi is among the world’s hotspots of rabies.

The country is also struggling to meet World Health Organisation’s requirements of vaccinating 70 percent of the country’s dog population which is the only proven means of preventing rabies in people.

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