While the nation of India has found its own new lease on life as it begins to become heavily industrialized, the furry members of its society are facing some new challenges.

For decades India has struggled with the issue of stray animals, and while cows and elephants are considered holy and treated with respect, the dogs and cats of India are facing a much harder time in their attempts to stay alive.

According to the World Health Organization, there are around 18,000 reported cases of rabies every year in India. In order to remedy this, India’s government had called for the euthanization of India’s stray dogs; however, after much discussion, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has asked many states to hold off on this action and attempted to vaccinate the stray animals against several diseases. Essentially, the AWBI believes that such actions taken against these animals is inhumane, as there is no clear distinguishing factor that determines whether an animal should be put down or vaccinated.

When walking the streets of India, it is very common to see dogs and cats roaming around, but travelers are advised not to pet them or interact with them, as they often find food in waste piles and are thus highly prone to disease and infection. However, many residents have been taking care of these animals for years; these animals are thought to have migrated over along with the original inhabitants of the land, thus creating a very blurry line as to which animals are stray and which have been domesticated. The issue with the current laws is that there is no defining point at which an animal becomes a family member and at which point it is still a stray. Many animal rights groups working alongside citizens have been fighting for this distinction to be made.

For now, the AWBI is advising the government to hold off on any euthanization or vaccination tactics that may be used to reduce the stray animal population. Some experts have proposed the idea of neutering definitively stray dogs and cats, so as to reduce the population. Many experts have made it clear that the key to reducing this issue is to better understand the animals themselves and their behavior. Most healthy animals will not bite or scratch a human unless they feel threatened, so a better understanding of animal behavior will allow citizens to express proper caution when dealing with them.

While the government of India remains at a standstill, citizens and animal rights groups have begun to press for better adoption systems and more definitive lines as to an animals ownership. Euthanization of these animals is effectively going against the Indian Supreme Court ruling against the killing of animals, and harm and cruelty toward animals. Many petitions and protests have been held against this action, but no decision has been reached. There is still a long road ahead for these furry friends, but it looks like there may be a light at the end of this very long tunnel.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: CNN, BBC
Photo: CNN

Lymphatic_FilariasisNeglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, are preventable illnesses that impact the poorest regions of the world. The NTD Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis, LF) threatens millions of people across India today. The disease causes intense pain and physically disfigures the bodies of those it plagues.

LF, like other NTDs, is preventable. In many cases across the world NTDs infect millions in extremely poor regions because there is no treatment available.

In India this is not the case; treatment is being made widely available. The Indian government has recently launched an ambitious goal of eradicating LF, providing treatment to around 460 million people in 17 different Indian states.

The reason LF remains present in India today is due to lack of disease awareness and education surrounding the disease. There is also a general suspicion towards pharmaceuticals distributed by the government or by large organizations. For these reasons, people simply do not consume the pills they receive.

Almost half the population of India is at risk of contracting LF. LF takes around eight to ten years to begin visibly showing its damage; and this delay often makes people forget about the danger of this NTD. Prevention of LF, despite the public’s hesitancy toward it, is extremely easy. It requires only the consumption of pills.

To raise awareness about LF and prevention and to try to persuade Indians to take the pills they receive, The Indian Ministry of Health and Welfare along with the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases has created a public service campaign called “Hathipaon Mukt Bharat” or Filaria Free India in the hopes of eradicating LF through education on the disease and the importance of pill consumption.

The creative campaign includes three TV and cinema videos in 10 languages; radio, newspaper and print, cellphone, and online advertisements are also a part of the campaign. The goal is to create awareness and a shared sense of nationalistic determination to unite all and help eradicate the disease.

Research indicates that in advertisements, audiences react much more strongly to positive messages. And the campaign is simple and uplifting, that LF pills are safe and free, and together India can overcome LF. Powerful imagery also captures the audience’s attention; a man in late stages of LF stands disfigured at a small hospital clinic. He explains to children how he “never thought it would happen to me.”

India is a diverse country, celebrating over 780 languages. The background music of the campaign is in Sanskrit,the language of ancient India that many religious texts are written in. It is not spoken today and only a few scholars and religious people know how to read it. It unites the country with its rich history. The lyrics translate to “Every sign or indication leads us to the path of knowledge. And the journey across that path of knowledge leads us to absolute truth.”

Over 200,000 health workers in 14 Indian states were involved in the initial campaign drive. They helped expose over 300 million people in India to information on LF.

“India has made great strides over the last decade to eliminate lymphatic filariasis in endemic states and we are now on the verge of reaching elimination targets nationally. However, the last mile of the journey is often the most difficult. We are employing a wide range of new communications tactics and partnerships that will help us encourage all people at risk from this disease to consume their free dose of medicine during our annual mass drug administrations” explained Mr. C.K. Mishra, Additional Secretary and Mission Director of the National Health Mission at the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

Margaret Anderson

Sources: WHO, Impatient Optimists, Sabin
Photo: National Geographic