Featured Article - 21 November 2023
Battling Rabies and Changing Attitudes for Animal Welfare in Afghanistan
The journey of a dedicated veterinarian in Afghanistan, working tirelessly as a member of the NOWZAD team, to combat rabies and improve animal welfare despite the challenges faced in a country with limited resources.
I always wanted to be a veterinarian, for as long as I remember – growing up in Afghanistan I had a deep desire to try and help animals which seemed to be so affected by the troubles in my country. I started working for Nowzad Veterinary Clinic in 2017 with my sole aim to improve animal welfare in Afghanistan and start reducing the number of rabies cases down to zero. I had witnessed a father lose his son to the virus when I was training to be a vet and, ever since, had wanted to do what I could against rabies which causes the death of so many people and animals every single day.
It is a struggle though. Our country cannot afford expensive vaccination and awareness campaigns. There are rabid dogs in many areas across Afghanistan – six weeks ago we were called out to a donkey working in Paghman province that had been attacked by a rabid dog and badly bitten on the muzzle. The dog had been killed by the locals, inhumanely. The donkey thankfully recovered and was quarantined for a month by its owner. It was a horrible incident but fortunately people had seen our awareness posters and had recognized the signs in the dog before anyone else or another animal was attacked.
Myself and our team of 4 other vets, with help even from the Animal Health Department spend a lot of time putting up awareness posters and handing out information leaflets but we are really starting to see a difference – people often reach out to us if they suspect a rabies case. We also receive calls every day from really far afield about injured dogs or an animal in need with people asking for our help…this is a huge difference to even just five years ago. One of my proudest moments as a vet recently was when I received a call from a lady who informed me about the 5 puppies she’d found on her street. One of the puppies had been killed by a car and the others were really struggling in the heavy rain and flooding. When I arrived to try and rescue the puppies, the two young ladies helped me, and we were able to save the 4 puppies that are now recovering at our clinic. I was so thankful to them for their help and compassion.
Sadly however, the population of dogs in Kabul continues to increase. Large groups of dogs tend to gather early in the morning and late at night, particularly at prayer times, and people are often attacked. As a team though, Nowzad is working to try and combat rabies. We give all animals that pass through our doors or who we treat out in the field free rabies vaccinations – dogs, cats, horses, donkeys and livestock. When we are called out to collect a rabid dog, we will always survey the entire area for at least one week, informing people of what has happened and ensuring they know the signs and symptoms of the disease.
We also visit schools roughly once a week to give presentations to primary and secondary school children on rabies and how to prevent it. Teachers are always very welcoming and interested, often saying that this is new knowledge for them too. We’ll always take the opportunity to also teach children about how to treat animals with kindness and compassion – just as I was taught as a child. For me, it is all about changing attitudes towards animals for future generations and that is what I shall carry on doing for as long as I can.
Article contributed by: Dr. Ahmad Reshad Asghari, Veterinarian for NOWZAD