The Federal Government has declared free treatment in all tertiary hospitals in the country for dog bite victims, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said.
The minister announced the plan in Abuja on Thursday when he addressed newsmen as part of activities marking World Rabies Day, with the theme, “Rabies: understand it to defeat it. ’’
Rabies, contracted through dog bite, is a deadly infectious disease caused by a virus which invades the nerves, spinal cord, brain and salivary gland of an infected animal or man.
Chukwu, who was represented at the event by Mr Sani Bala, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, said about 10,000 Nigerians were exposed to dog bite annually.
He expressed concern over the failure of many dog owners to vaccinate their animals against rabies.
The minister said each year more than 55,000 people died globally from rabies infection, adding that although there was no effective treatment for the disease, it was vaccine-preventable.
“Children are often the most vulnerable because they are more likely to be bitten by dogs and also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites.
“The challenges of rabies prevention and control in Nigeria are numerous; one of them is that the burden of rabies in human is largely unknown.
“Human cases are often under-diagnosed and under-reported due to lack of diagnostic facilities and trained personnel.
“The passive surveillance used for case detection has been grossly inadequate, all these contribute to lack of accurate and reliable information needed for planning purposes,’’ he said.
Chukwu said the ministry would create anti-rabies vaccine centres in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
He said the government would also provide standard operating procedure for treatment of rabies in all health facilities.
In his remark, WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr Rui Vaz, said that rabies had become a major public health problem in Nigeria.
According to Vaz, an estimated 25,000 people die of rabies in Africa every year. (NAN)