By Meron Tekleberhan
Addis Ababa, January 3, 2012 (Ezega.com) - A repeated issue that is raised by the neighborhood committee in the area that I live in is the issue of the ever increasing number of stray dogs. The committee resolved to contact the municipality offices after an elderly man was bitten but had to make the call several times before exterminators were finally sent with the promise that the problem would be dealt with.
“We were told that they would come on a certain night and take care of the problem and they did come and the next morning the neighborhood was littered with the dead bodies of several dogs but it was not a very effective solution, the problem was still there’ said Ato Feleke, a resident of the neighborhood.
The method used by the municipality to address the problem are archaic, inhumane and not conscious of the consequences of leaving dead animals lying as well as being ineffective according to Feleke.
The problem created by seemingly uncontrollable packs of dogs is affecting all parts of the city including main thoroughfares used by people making use of the public transport system.
“We were at Yekatit 12 Hospital last week with a friend take in for an emergency appendectomy and in the 2 hours we spent waiting for him we saw two people brought in who were bitten by what was said to be the same dog, but at different times” said Tamerat, a 35 year old resident of Addis Ababa.
“I asked some nurses if this was a common a problem and they told me that they have at least one patient a week coming in after having been bitten by a stray dog” he added.
Tamerat was not able to confirm if the two patients he saw brought in were bitten by a rabid dog or not but according to Dr. Abiye Wondimu, a twenty seven year old veterinarian, this was most likely.
“Stray dogs are used to being around people because they survive by blending in scavenging from the refuse thrown out from businesses and homes, and because of this they are friendlier than most domestic dog only familiar with the people who feed and take care of them. Which is why when an unprovoked stray dog bites someone it is usually rabid’ he explained.
According to Mekonnen Fekadu in an article reviewing rabies in Ethiopia published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, rabies is one the most severe infectious diseases in Ethiopia.
He notes that a great of majority of humans treated with rabies vaccines are bitten by rabid or suspected rabid dogs but that the dogs are usually not available for confirmation because they are strays.
Statistics from the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute show that an estimated 35 to 58 people die annually from rabies with almost 20 thousand treated for suspected infection.
In spite of these numbers and the stark reality that these are amongst the highest figures for rabies related deaths in Africa, there is still no popularly known means of controlling the ever increasing number of strays then that of the sporadic extermination efforts undertaken by the municipality.
Unfortunately, however even these efforts fail to be as effective as they could simply because the inhumanity of allowing dogs that are familiar to be exterminated is too much to bear for most people. In the case of the extermination efforts in our neighborhood for example many people harbored a dog they were familiar with overnight exacerbating the ineffectiveness of the effort as noted by Ato Feleke.
Reducing the number of stray dogs through systematic extermination is also no longer recommended by international health agencies not only because of its inhumanity but because it is widely recognized that the ‘herd’ immunity expected to be the final outcome of vaccinations programs cannot be achieved with the faster turnover due to extermination explained Dr. Abiye.
“There is really little that can be achieved to solve this issue without widespread support from domestic dog owners and communities at large’ he said.
Dog owners need to be responsible for their pets and make sure that their vaccinations are up to date as a first step towards ensuring immunity across the board according to Dr. Abiye.
Registration of domestic pets and their owners by Kebeles will also serve to determine the canine population as well as enforcing responsibility although this may not be a realistic option at this time he added.
“Communities can also play a part by contributing towards the vaccination of strays. Again this may seem unrealistic but most strays hang around the same neighborhood most of the time and they tend to attach themselves to particular homes or businesses as a matter of course. Which makes this a more tenable option then it seems at first glance” said the vet.
At the end of the day what seems obvious is that the very serious problem associated with the ever increasing number of stray dogs needs to be addressed by the combined effort of the government and communities to definitively combat the rate of rabies infection and fatalities.
Meron Tekleberhan is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.