With a significant number of snakebite victims being rushed to private hospitals, the non-availability of anti-venom could become a major public health issue.

Scarcity of snake anti-venom in the open market across the State is emerging as a major threat to the lives of people, especially those engaged in agrarian activities in the northern parts.

Almost all major private hospitals, handling snakebite cases, do not have any anti-venom stocks, nor is it available in the open market now.

There is no scarcity at present for the drug in government hospitals and medical colleges. However, with a significant number of snakebite victims being rushed to private hospitals, the non-availability of anti-venom could become a major public health issue.

The scarcity has been acute in the past six months. Flooded by panic calls from major private hospitals in Malappuram and Kannur seeking anti-venom supplies, the problem has been serious enough for the Health Department to issue a directive to the district medical officers that anti-venom supplies may be given to private hospitals as per need, on condition that these drugs are given totally free of cost to patients.

‘‘Medical college hospitals and district/general hospitals have just about enough anti-venom stocks to meet emergencies. We have been told that government hospitals will not have a major issue of scarcity at least till March 31, as the stock indented by various hospitals for 2013-14 has been procured by Kerala Medical Services Corporation Ltd. (KMSLC) in full. Following the non-availability of anti-venom in open market, we have been flooded with requests from major private hospitals for the drug,’’ Director of Health Services P.K. Jameela said.

Managing Director of KMSCL R. Kamalahar said the Corporation had procured 7,000 vials of anti-venom for 2013-14 and that it had about 1,300 vials as remaining stock to tide over till March 31.

‘‘There is currently a severe shortage of anti-venom in the market, primarily because there is only one firm in Hyderabad which is producing the drug,’’ Mr. Kamalahar said.

The requirement for anti-venom had been unusually high from the north-eastern States this year and hence the Government of India had taken almost the entire stock of the drug from the manufacturer for supplying in the North-East, adding to the shortage, he said.

Mr. Kamalahar said that another reason for the shortage of anti-venom was the fact that the drug had been brought under the Drug Price Control Order by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority. The regulation in market price had obviously made the drug less attractive for pharma companies to produce in bulk, he said.

Doctors at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital said they were yet to encounter any shortage in the anti-venom supply. However, Mathew Thomas, a senior physician in the city, said that the hospital pharmacy had absolutely no anti-venom stocks and that attempts to procure directly from the manufacturer had failed.

‘‘This is a panicky situation because we get about four or five snakebite cases in a month and we have no idea how to go ahead. In a case of severe envenomation, at least 20 to 40 vials of anti-venom are required to save the life of the person. A life-saving drug, it should be made available easily because it is important that it is administered as soon as possible after the bite. The government should intervene immediately to resolve the crisis or there could be serious loss of lives,’’ he said.

Mr. Kamalahar said KMSCL was in the process of procuring drugs for 2014-15 and that in the event that the anti-venom manufacturer was not able to supply adequate quantities of the drug, KMSCL would try to import the drug to meet the shortage. ‘‘We have applied for a drug export/import licence to enable this,’’ he said.