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Rabies vaccine shortage in Punjab

Anti-rabies vaccine shortage illustration. Stock Photo - dog sleeping on street in Punjab, India
A stray dog sleeping on the streets of Punjab.

The Punjab government has been criticised by a BJP official over rabies vaccine shortages in the state. 

Parveen Bansal, general secretary of the Punjab BJP chapter, took the state government to task after he reported sending someone who had been bitten by a dog to the Ludhiana Civil Hospital. According to a report published in The Tribune, after struggling to avail the first shot though eventually receiving it, the individual arrived at the hospital for a second dose. The hospital refused to provide the shot, prompting Bansal to purchase the shot himself. When they arrived for their third dose, they were informed by the hospital that the rabies vaccine was out of stock.

Bansal castigated the Indian National Congress-run state government under Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh for rabies vaccine shortages, which he said was an issue plaguing the entire state and not just Ludhiana. “I spoke to the SMO [senior medical officer] and CMO [chief medical officer] on the issue, but was clearly told that not just at the Civil Hospital, anti-rabies injections are not available all over Punjab,” Bansal said. 

Castigating the state government, Bansal said “this is criminal negligence. [The state’s] high population is at the mercy of God. That means the Captain government has no proper direction and dimension. The lives of 2.5 crore Punjabis are in the hands of God.” 

Ludhiana alone, Bansal said, “has 50,000 stray dogs. The people are frequent victims of dog bites, but our government has no anti-rabies vaccination. During the SAD-BJP regime not only government hospitals [but] rather all private hospitals…were provided free anti-rabies vaccines.” 

Rabies vaccine shortages are not an issue confined to Punjab, but rather affect India as a whole. This is despite the high mortality rate of the disease, which killed every person who was infected with it in 2017. India accounts for one-third of the world’s rabies deaths, with 20,847 people losing their lives to the disease every year. 

States such as Goa – where no cases were reported in 2018 and officials are optimistic that the disease can be eradicated next year — show that progress against rabies is possible. Rabies vaccine shortages will impede such progress at the national level. The country’s states and union territories report rabies vaccine shortages of between twenty and eighty percent. Concerted efforts are needed from all stakeholders to ensure treatments for rabies is available – the plight of one dog bite victim in Punjab encapsulating a national public health struggle. 

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