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Make snake bite deaths, cases notifiable: activists to govt.

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NGOs, physicians say it claims nearly 50,000 lives a year, but government focus is minimal

Mumbai: Animal activists specialising in snakes are demanding that the Centre bring snake bites and deaths on par with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and H1N1 influenza by making it notifiable.

They feel that though India is globally referred to as the ‘snake bite capital’, the magnitude of the threat it poses has been understated by the government.

When a disease is made notifiable by the Central government, any case or death occurring due to it is notified by the medical facility or doctor to the government. A disease is accorded this status when it becomes a cause of public health concern, or an epidemic, and the government can make it mandatory for healthcare professionals and hospitals to report all such cases to the authorities.

Cases of snake bites and deaths are witnessing a steady increase, and notifying snake bites and deaths will help in shifting the government’s focus and developing urgently-needed interventions, says Kedar Bhide, founder, Reptile Rescue and Study Centre. Mr. Bhide’s NGO runs ‘Zero Bite’, a campaign that aims at reducing snake bites in and around Mumbai.

He says, “When diseases like HIV/AIDS, TB, and swine flu were made notifiable, the government machinery was automatically mobilised into preventing and eliminating them. Funds pour in and interventions are designed to make a difference once a disease is made notifiable. Snake bites are a serious problem in our country, and should get similar government focus. This will happen only if instances are made notifiable.”

In 2011, a countrywide study by the Registrar General of India had pegged annual snake bite deaths at nearly 50,000, but government records show there are only around 1,300 deaths in a year due to this menace, Mr. Bhide points out. “Snake bites have been neglected as a tropical disease for a long time, but have an enormous socio-economic impact on the victim’s family. “In many places, there is stigma attached to snake bites. Some consider it a bad omen or a revenge killing originating in a past life; others queue up to carry out elaborate rituals after the incident.”

At present, six States — West Bengal, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — offer compensation to victims by classifying a snake bite as a natural calamity. The procedure to get this compensation involves tedious paperwork to prove the death was due to a snake bite, including supporting evidence in the form of a post-mortem report.

Dr. Himmatrao Bawaskar, a physician based in Mahad who has been working in the area of snake and scorpion bites for over two decades, says making these cases notifiable is a must. “Many people don’t reach hospitals; some land up in private hospitals when their condition becomes critical. If snake bites are made notifiable, even the private sector will be mandated to keep a record and submit it to the government.”

He wants the government to conduct lectures on snake bites and related treatment in medical colleges, as the MBBS syllabus briefly touches upon the topic and doesn’t prepare new doctors to deal with such patients. “Every snake bite presents varied symptoms, which can be identified only by a trained doctor. Only then can an accurate anti-venom dosage be prescribed.”

There are over 300 snake species in India, of which 62 are identified as venomous and semi-venomous. In Australia, which has the highest number of venomous snake species in the world, snake bites account for less than 10 deaths annually. An city like Mumbai sees nearly 100 cases of snake bite every year in forested areas like Aarey Colony, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Madh Island and Gorai.

Goa-based Dr. Freston Sirur, an MD in emergency medicine who specialises in snake bite treatment and management, says, “We need accurate snake bite data for research and for other interventions that could help us in prevention. Besides mortality, there are many who live with severe morbidity after snake bites; these people can seek compensation if snake bites are notified.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 1:26:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/make-snake-bite-deaths-cases-notifiable-activists-to-govt/article19694674.ece

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