Snakebite treatment centre coming up

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Ian D. Simpson
Ian D. Simpson

Staff Reporter

WHO group, SRM Medical College Hospital setting it up jointly

'R'eassuring the patient - Half of all snakebites has no venom'I'mmobilising the wound - no compression bandages should be applied'G'et the patient to 'H'ospital immediately'T'ell the doctor all symptoms - Drooping eyelids, numbness in the lips, etc.

CHENNAI: The World Health Organisation Snakebite Treatment Group and the SRM Medical College Hospital plan to establish a centre of excellence for snakebite treatment at the hospital in Kattankulathur, south of Chennai.

The Centre's plans to enable production of region and species- specific anti-venom to bring down the 50,000 deaths reported every year.

"Greater research needed"

Ian D. Simpson, head of the WHO Snakebite group, is credited with the collaborative discovery of the venomous hump nosed pit viper found in Tamil Nadu. He said greater research was needed to detect the other venomous snakes, the specific effects on the body of various venoms and the costs involved in providing anti-venom and treating the long-term effects of bites that were not attended to effectively.

He said that while 60 of the 270 snakes in India were poisonous, the anti-venom currently available is a multi-species venom that counteracted the venom of the 'big four', or the cobra, krait, Russell's viper and saw scaled viper. There are three varieties of cobra alone in the country. It was unfortunate that Western first aid methods such as applying compress bandages were prescribed by most medical textbooks, he said. For the Indian scenario, the box describes the correct first aid to be given.

ELISA, or Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay, is an internationally used technology that can detect the amount of venom and the species in a case of snakebite in 20 minutes.

It was available in countries such as Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand but used in India only for AIDS detection. The widespread use of technology is the reason why Australia, which has the world's top ten most venomous snakes, has only about one or two deaths due to snakebite annually, Dr. Simpson said.

The Centre would be making crucial interventions in three areas. Research into the causes and consequences of death due to snakebite, or epidemiological studies, will be conducted in rural areas in Tamil Nadu. Ensuring the availability of ELISA technology will be another priority. This will enable delivery of targeted anti-venom.

Free treatment

The Centre will provide treatment free initially for around 100 patients a year, O.S.R. Sivaraman, Pro. Vice-Chancellor, SRM Medical College Hospital and Research Centre, said.

ELISA was the golden key to the surmountable problem of snakebite, Dr. Simpson said, and the goal of the Centre was to enable a bio-medical company to develop low-cost kits that could be supplied to primary health care centres and other doctors.




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