With a view to achieving the ‘zero rabies death’ target as early as possible the Mission Rabies-Goa has decided to intensify surveillance and implement phase two of the mission. They plan to establish an integrated bite case management system. The mission officials are using the latest technology to map stray dogs on an app allowing for ‘strategic’ response on rabies. Although over the last three years since Mission Rabies was launched the number of rabies-related deaths has come down to a negligible figure, there is no drop in dog bite cases. During the past four and a half years, as many as 73,000 persons were bitten by stray dogs in the state. This is because there is no check on the proliferation of stray dogs, which raises questions about the honesty with which the authorities have been implementing the sterilisation programme through non-government organisations. The number of stray dogs in the state is estimated to be over 50,000. For the success of Mission Rabies it is necessary to bring down the number of stray dogs.
The government needs to launch a multi-pronged drive to end the menace of stray dogs. While the volunteers of Mission Rabies carry out vaccination against rabies, which has led to huge decline in the number of rabies cases, the same cannot be said about the sterilisation programme as there are no signs of fall in number of stray dogs. Rather the number of stray dogs appears to have increased; scores of dogs can be seen moving around on every lane, street or road. People do not fear stray dogs for spread of rabies alone; they fear them also for causing accidents, quite a few of which have been fatal. The dogs also cause nuisance and disturb sleep of people in residential colonies with their barking and yelping through the night. Stray dogs often chase cars and two-wheelers passing along the roads they occupy, causing panic and loss of control of vehicle by the drivers.
The multi-pronged drive should eliminate dumps of food along the roads and in the open places where the stray dogs feed themselves. The drive should also create awareness among the citizens, some of whom are found to be in the habit of feeding stray dogs. They should know that they are increasing the risks to other peoples’ lives by feeding stray dogs. Their compassion for all living creatures should make compassion for human beings as top priority.
There appears to be growing awareness about rabies in the state, which has helped in bringing down the number of rabies cases, together with inoculation programme. The officials of Mission Rabies have carried out awareness drive among 3.5 lakh school children since 2014 and sensitized over 16,000 teachers in rabies education. During almost four-year-old anti-rabies programme, the mission officials have tested over 150 dogs at the rabies testing facility established at the animal husbandry and veterinary services’ disease investigation unit laboratory for prevalence of rabies among them. Those testing positive for disease have been put to sleep so as to prevent passing of disease to others. To eradicate rabies, it is necessary to bring down the number of stray dogs as well as inoculate them against rabies. The task of inoculating every dog appears huge, as it would not be possible for the NGOs to catch every stray dog to sterilize or inoculate them. The citizens need to help the government and the NGOs in the task. The citizens should also help by refraining from throwing food along the roads.
On an average 50 persons are bitten by stray dogs every day in the state. Each of them has to be administered anti-rabies vaccine for which substantial amount is spent by the government. It is not only Goans who are bitten but also quite a good number of tourists including foreigners. There have been a few cases of foreigners having contracted rabies during their stay in Goa but dying subsequently in their home countries due to the disease. Stray dogs are not only a nuisance but also threat to the tourism sector, so it is necessary that their number is reduced to zero. Being a tourist state Goa cannot afford to let stray dogs ruin tourists’ vacations. Much will depend on the strategies the authorities adopt to deal with the rising stray dog population. Since elimination of stray dogs by shooting or any other method is against law, much will depend on the success of the sterilisation programme. All the forty MLAs of the state should make it a mission to reduce rabies as well as the presence of stray dogs to zero.