Lack of awareness killing thousands of snake bite victims

By Pradipta Tapadar, IANS,

Kolkata : Snake bites claim over 3,000 lives every year in West Bengal due to lack of training among doctors and dearth of awareness among patients, despite medicines being available free of cost in all healthcare centres and hospitals.

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The ignorance about the need for proper and fast treatment is taking its toll in rural areas, say researchers and health officials.

While in several other states, the anti snake venom serum (AVS) – the medicine needed to treat snake bite – is available for a price, in West Bengal patients are supplied the drug free of cost, says Dayal Bandu Majumdar, a researcher on snake bites, awareness and treatment.

“But as most of the doctors and health services personnel of primary healthcare centres are not well trained to treat such cases and only refer these patients to district health centres, the loss of valuable time becomes fatal for the victims,” Majumdar told IANS.

State’s Director of Health Services Aniruddha Kar concurs, but also pinpoints lack of awareness among the people as a major cause of snake bite deaths.

“The delayed treatment and blind faith of the patient parties in Onjhas (traditional healers) are the main reasons behind it. The main problem is lack of awareness,” Kar told IANS.

Time is an important factor in treating snake bite cases as the first dose of anti-venom medicine should be given within an hour of the bite.

“We receive four to five patients every day on an average. We are able to save most of the patients. But a few of them die because of sheer unawareness as the patients visit health centres after visiting Onjhas,” said Rabindra Nath Pradhan, superintendent, Bishnupur Hospital in Bankura district.

Eighty percent of the snake bites are caused by the poisonous common krait snakes.

Different kinds of snake bites have different kinds of effect. While some affect the brain, others damage the kidneys.

Ten vials of anti-venom medicine is enough for treating average common krait bite patients and maximum 30 vials for Russell’s viper bite in India.

“The young doctors should get proper training in medical colleges for treating snake bite cases. Until and unless this is done effectively it will take some time to overcome this menace,” Kar said.

“We have already started conducting workshops and training programmes in order to impart proper training to young doctors to treat snake bite cases more effectively,” Kar added.

Majumdar, however, complained that despite repeated appeals no steps have been taken to include treatment of snake bites in the curriculum in most medical colleges.

Ninety-eight percent of snake bite cases in West Bengal occur in rural areas and suburbs. About 25,000 to 30,000 people are bitten by snakes every year, mostly during summer and rainy seasons. As most of the low-lying areas in the state get flooded during the monsoon, snake bite cases also go up during this time of the year.

(Pradipta Narayan Tapadar can be contacted at [email protected])