WHO resolution on snakebites flags the highly prevalent hazard at home

Of the 1 lakh people who die globally every year of snakebite, 40,000 are in India

Updated - June 01, 2018 07:45 am IST

Published - May 31, 2018 11:49 pm IST - Afshan YasmeenBengaluru

With the World Health Assembly adopting a resolution formally, providing the World Health Organisation (WHO) a strong mandate to develop a comprehensive plan for effective treatment of snakebite, India is now gearing up to tackle this highly prevalent public health hazard.

Of the 1,00,000 people who die globally every year from snakebite, one of the world’s most neglected tropical diseases (NTD), at least 46,000 are in India.

The resolution that provides the WHO with a clear mandate to work with affected countries, partners, stakeholders and industry, was proposed by several Member States and coordinated by the governments of Colombia and Costa Rica. Aimed at stepping up efforts to reduce the burden of snakebite envenoming, the resolution was strongly supported by more than 31 countries.

Welcoming the resolution Otmar Kloiber, Secretary General of the World Medical Association (WMA), said snakebites are not just responsible for preventable deaths, but disability and lasting trauma. He said the adoption of the resolution follows last year’s recognition of snakebite envenoming (poisoning from snake bites) as a NTD and the recommendation by WHO’s Executive Board in January 2018 to the Health Assembly.

WHO has already set up a working group to prepare a strategic plan to assess and address the global burden of snakebite envenoming, especially in mid- to low-income countries. The plan, being developed by the 28-member working group of experts, is expected by the end of 2018.

In the wake of this, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will soon start a process of consultation, and issue advisories to States on management and treatment of snakebite victims. The process will begin after the team that has gone to WHO returns, a top official in the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), in charge of Public Health, told The Hindu .

The onus of tackling the problem rests with the States, who have to procure the anti-snake venom vials depending on their individual requirements. “The assessment of the drug requirement has to be done by the States. Central funds will be made available for the procurement if the anti-snake venom medicine is included in the State’s list of essential medicines,” the official, who did not want to be quoted, said.

India has been consistently recognised as one of the countries with highest mortality rate from snakebites, largely because of poor access to healthcare. The Health Ministry has framed guidelines to be followed by all State health institutions to tackle and deal with the serious concern about deaths due to snakebites.

“Though deaths due to snakebites are a major problem in India, the issue is underestimated. We are yet to have proper data on the issue as the numbers are based only on what the States report,” the official said, adding that a National Snakebite Management Protocol is also in place.

The protocol was framed by the DGHS with technical support from the WHO’s country office in India. The protocol recognises the need to bring about a behavioural change among people regarding the occupational risks and their reduction. It also recognises the fact that the earlier a patient is treated with Anti-Snake Venom (ASV), the better the outcome. Admitting that there was a problem in availability of anti-snake venom injections earlier, the DGHS official said it had been sorted out now. “The States have to place the order at least three months in advance as the companies need time to procure biological support for the production of the life-saving drug,” he added.

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