Odisha takes steps to minimise snakebite deaths

The State has lost 5,964 people to snakebite in the past seven years since 2015-16

April 17, 2022 11:48 am | Updated 12:24 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR:

Image for representation.

Image for representation. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

As Odisha loses more human lives to snakebites than other natural disasters such as cyclone and flood, the State government has decided to come up with Standard Operating Procedures and institutional capacity building to deal with the menace.

Special Relief Commissioner P. K Jena has convened a meeting of experts drawn from World Bank, Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Assam, Karnataka and Kerala soliciting their views to minimise snakebite deaths.

The State has lost 5,964 lives in snakebite since 2015-16 with the average annual deaths exceeding 800, making it one of the most snakebite-prone States in India. In 2015, Odisha was first in the country to declare snakebite a State-specific disaster.

“Experts emphasised on raising awareness among people about snakes. Greater awareness about the reptile will lead to behavioural change and help people minimise casualties around them,” said Padmanabha Behera, Joint Special Relief Commissioner.

Mr. Behera said, “the government is keen to build health infrastructure keeping the high snakebite deaths in Odisha in mind. There was proposal to establish a dedicated ward with trained manpower and anti-venom drugs in every hospital like special wards created to deal with sunstroke cases during summer season.”

The high-level meeting also underscored the need for creating village-level snake rescuers in order to reduce man-reptile conflict.

In Odisha, snakebite deaths have doubled from 520 deaths reported in 2015-16 to 1,107 in 2020-21. The State has already reported 775 deaths in 2021-22. Thrice in 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, annual snakebite deaths had crossed 1,000-mark.

As far as districts are concerned, Mayurbhanj, a forest-rich district, has reported the highest of 510 snakebite deaths in past seven years. It is followed by Ganjam, Balasore and Keonjhar districts with 469, 464 and 426 deaths respectively. Though Gajapati has large patch covered with forest, it has only reported 21 deaths since 2015-16.

‘Good initiative’

“This is a very good initiative. Odisha has always been ahead of other States with regards to disaster management. We are sure the State would achieve its intended objectives,” said Pratyush P. Mohapatra, a prominent expert on snake and officer-in-charge of reptile section of the ZSI, Kolkata.

Dr. Mohapatra said, “among all animals, reptiles, especially snakes, are most prone to end up in conflict as they share living space with humans. An average of 58,000 deaths per year is estimated with annual morbidity of 1.11–1.77 million bites during 2015.”

According to the ZSI scientist, every day on an average more than 4,800 people get bitten by snakes and unaccountable snakes are persecuted. “Poor medical facilities in most parts of rural India and deep-rooted misconception about snakes often mislead snakebite victims to end up with troubles,” he said.

Advance treatment facilities such as ventilator and ambulance with life support system should be mobilized to help attend snakebite cases at earliest.

“The authorities should think of developing a venom collection unit owned by the State government to develop region or State specific anti-snake venom. The COVID-19 pandemic has come as blessing in disguise. If advance medical facilities such as ventilators are put to use, snakebite deaths could be brought down. The government should prepare a trained team of rapid response force to deal with snake rescuers during emergency situations like flood,” Dr. Mohapatra said.

Lightning is another major cause of deaths other than snakebites in Odisha. The lightning deaths in Odisha have shown downward trends after government raised awareness about lightning and disseminated advance warning about ‘Kal Baisakhi’ (nor‘westers).

Learning lessons from lightning deaths and its response, Odisha is set to tackle snakebite menace.

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