The authorities in Pujehun District have ordered the killing of all stray dogs found roaming the streets. The order is in response to a dog bite incident that apparently killed a 7-year old girl.
Health officials are investigating the cause of her death, but already suspicion has fallen heavily on a possible rabies infection.
The incident in the Gbondapi community has sparked widespread concern because it followed reports of the hospitalisation of another victim of a dog bite in the same community.
A team from the district health management team, World Health Organisation and other stakeholders have been dispatched to the community to investigate the incident, according to Dr David Bome, the District Medical Officer in Pujehun. He said they were there to investigate how many people were actually affected and to collect specimen for investigations to ascertain the cause of death of the young girl.
An official of the Pujehun District Council said the order to kill was part of efforts to cleanse the district of dogs wandering the street with the potential to infect people with rabies. Councilor Anthony Fortune, chairman of the Health Committee at the Pujehun District Council, said residents would also henceforth be required to license their pet dogs so that proper record of the canine animal could be kept, and that in case there was such incident they could trace the owner.
Fortune told Politico that they had ordered youths in the entire district to kill any dog found on the streets. Six dogs, including the one suspected to have bitten the deceased girl, have already been killed in the Gbondapi community.
Gbondapi, located some 12 miles to the district headquarter town of Pujehun, is one of the oldest trade fair communities in Sierra Leone. Business people go there from as far as across the border with Liberia. This weekly trading, called ‘Lomaa’, takes place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Traders and market goers often bring along their dogs to the trade fair and the animals find appealing food stuff like rotten fish. Because of this many of the dogs make Gbondapi their home, living off on the discarded food stuff.
Rabies is a preventable but incurable viral disease that affects mammals. It is most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal, like dogs. The virus infects the central nervous system and ultimately causes disease in the brain.
The symptoms include fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort.
Sierra Leone is thought to have one of the highest concentrations of stray dogs in Africa and about 500 people die of rabies every year. There is an ongoing campaign to vaccinate all dogs as part of efforts to end rabies by the year 2030.
Officials in Pujehun say rabies cases are rarely reported.
Bome say this is the first time since he was deployed to the district in 2014 that they have recorded a rabies case.
Human beings can also be vaccinated against rabies, but Bome said the vaccines available in the whole district are only enough for no more than five people.
The DMO dismissed reports about the hospitalisation of a child under five years of age for a dog bite. But a source confirmed to Politico that a boy within that age had indeed been admitted at the Pujehun Maternity Hospital for a dog bit.
The district management team said it’s embarking on a sanitisation through outreach programmes and radio discussions on the issue of handling of dogs and other pets. One other measure being considered, according to Mr Fortune, is the introduction of by-laws which will enforce the requirement to license pet animals. [By Mohamed T Massaquoi, Politico]