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Hospitals lambasted over rabies deaths

WHO calls their vaccines "obsolete" and "inferior"

Hospitals lambasted over rabies deaths
Doctor Quaid Saeed (right) at a press conference in Lahore reporter, Lahore

February 21, 2013

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Thousands are still dying from rabies as government hospitals continue to administer an outdated vaccine, WHO - the World Health Organization - said yesterday.

Pakistan sees 5,000 to 6,000 rabies deaths a year. "This high mortality rate indicates a failure to follow WHO guidelines and the use of obsolete and inferior vaccines for rabies management”, said Doctor Quaid Saeed Akhunzada, a national program manager for the WHO.

Officials from the Institute of Public Health Punjab have urged the government to replace the current program with WHO-approved vaccines. The institute launched a rabies awareness campaign last month in schools in Punjab province.

Some government hospitals in the province still use a vaccine requiring 14 injections, which was declared obsolete for rabies management by the WHO in 1980. 

“We have been sending directions to government hospitals for three years, saying that the vaccine is proven ineffective, highly reactogenic and even may cause inflammation of brain tissue," said Dr Quaid Saeed.

“Rabies is a disease of the poor. Most of the victims are villagers who prefer going to mystics and magicians. Particularly schoolchildren are at high risk."

The WHO rabies vaccine has reduced the fatality rate in many Asian countries, including Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, whose five-year term ends next month, has faced severe criticism for his management of the Health Ministry. More than 100 cardiac patients died last year following an adverse reaction to the commonly prescribed drugs.

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