Prachi, 9, and her friend were feeding two stray dogs at a park in her locality over a fortnight back when she was suddenly attacked by a third one. Stray dogs attacking children in the narrow lanes of Govindpuri in south Delhi is not uncommon, says Prachi’s mother.
“Two months back, Prachi’s cousin was attacked by a pack of at least eight dogs. She lay on the ground till neighbours came to the spot.”
Prachi was first taken to a local doctor who immediately referred her to Safdarjung Hospital for anti-rabies vaccination. “Now only one shot remains. She is otherwise a frail child and has not attended school since the attack,” says the mother who had brought her to Safdarjung Hospital for the third shot on Friday.
Cases of dog bite are common in the area with dogs occupying even the staircases of the buildings during the day.
Kiran, the mother of five-year-old Jyoti, has a similar experience to share. The child was playing outside her home in west Delhi when she was suddenly attacked by a stray. “She suffered deep injuries on her stomach. We cannot let our children out because of dogs in the locality,” says Kiran.
At Safdarjung Hospital, on an average 500 patients come daily for anti-rabies vaccination. This includes new patients and those coming for the subsequent doses.
“The numbers easily cross 1.8 lakh patients yearly. The government’s burden of expenditure on anti-rabbies vaccination is huge at present. There is an immediate need to work out solutions to curb dog bite cases,” said a senior administrative doctor at Safdarjung Hospital.
At Centre-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, 250-300 patients who have suffered dog bites turn up daily, says RML spokesperson V K Sinha.
“There are three categories of vaccination. Even if there are minor scratches without bleeding, it is must that people get vaccinated. A patient is given the required dose depending on the kind of injury he has. People are well aware on the need for vaccination in case of dog bites now,” says a senior doctor at RML Hospital.
Swami, 67, rushed to RML Hospital after he was bit by a dog in Dhaula Kuan area. “I eke out living as a pundit. I was eating a sweet after finishing puja at a club in Dhaula Kuan area when I was attacked by a stray dog. My hand has suffered deep wounds and was severely bleeding when I came to the hospital.” The Lakshmi Nagar resident added the menace of stray dogs is increasing in his locality as well.
People use to wait in queue for hours for anti rabies vaccination till a few weeks back at RML Hospital. “With the opening of the new casualty block, we can promptly treat patients of dog bite,” says a senior nurse in the casualty.
Menace at hospitals
Hospital authorities are also grappling with dog and cat menace on the premises. Stray dogs in government hospitals are a common sight. This also increases infection rates in hospitals.
“It is difficult to screen stray dogs from entering the hospital as the gates are open round-the-clock for entry of patients and vehicles. We have written to the Public Works Department to look into the issue and if the installation of any kind of cattle guard is possible at the hospital gates,” says Dr Amita Saxena, medical superintendent at Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) Hospital.
Currently, hospital authorities have few options apart from alerting the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) on the spike in dog menace cases. The challenge remains in tackling the problem because the strays are returned near the hospitals weeks after they are taken for sterilisation.
“The menace has relatively come down. But we still cannot claim a stray dog-free hospital campus yet. The dogs when dropped back stray into the campus again,” says Dr Savita Babbar, medical superintendent at Deen Dayal Upadhyay (DDU) Hospital.
At DDU Hospital around 100 patients are vaccinated daily against dog bites. “On an average, there are 80-100 cases. But the numbers go up to 200 per day at times,” says Dr J P Singh, Emergency head at DDU Hospital.
In March, some state-run hospitals had reported a shortage of anti rabies vaccination. With increased referral cases, well-stocked hospitals also ran out of the vaccine.
“Currently, there is no shortage of vaccines. We handle over 200 patients of dog bites daily. In most cases, they are bitten by stray dogs and in a few cases by pet dogs,” says Dr S B Jangpani, alternate nodal officer at LBS Hospital.
The polyclinics under the North Delhi Municipal Corporation have vaccinated 7,898 people during January-May, 2015. Currently, patients suffering from severe rabies infection are admitted to Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Disease Hospital. This hospital has seen 10,041 cases and 24 deaths last year.
“No hospital is usually ready to admit these patients because of the severity of the infection. All patients suffering from rabies infection are taken to the ID Hospital,” says Dr D K Seth, director at municipality-run Bara Hindu Rao Hospital.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has now called for a debate between animal rights versus human rights at a time when human lives are at risk.
The commission has observed that while sterilisation can help curb the dog population, it cannot save people from dog bites.