- A recent study has determined that almost 80% (up to 64,100 of the 78,600 deaths) of snakebite deaths in the world happen in India.
- Before the current study, it was thought that India is responsible for up to half of the global deaths due to snakebite.
- The study estimated that the age-standardised death rate (which accounts for different age-structures in different countries, thus allowing comparison between countries) in India, at 4.0 per 1,00,000, is also among the highest globally, and many times over than the global figure of 0.8 deaths per 1,00,000.
- Only Somalia has a higher age-standardised death rate than India at 4.5 per 1,00,000.
- Within India, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have even higher age-standardised death rates, at 6.5, 6.0, and 5.8 per 1,00,000, respectively.
- As per the data compiled by Kerala Forest Department serpents kill at least double the number of humans than those getting killed in encounters with wild elephants.
- In 2020-21 50 people were killed in snakebites that took place outside forest areas whereas the death toll involving wild elephants was 25.
What are the concerns
- The high age-standardised death rate indicates a failing health system in India which is leading to high deaths in those who are bitten by venomous snakes.
- The absence of a specific national strategy to address snakebite implies there is no programme by the government to either prevent snakebite or in preventing deaths or disability in those who are bitten by venomous snakebite.
What needs to be done
- Preventing snakebite needs more than simple awareness programmes.
- This is so because snakebite at its core is due to snake-human-environment conflict tied to many socio-cultural-religious aspects.
- As such, understanding the conflict and code signing community-based programmes for prevention of snakebites which are tested through community randomised cluster trials are required.
- To bring down deaths, strengthening of primary healthcare in India is also required.
- There is a need for comprehensive strengthening of primary healthcare systems focusing on both access and quality of care across all health systems blocks, instead of a sole focus on snake antivenom availability.
- Because snakebite affects the rural poor, a national strategy for snakebite brings in an equity focus which will bring cross benefits for other neglected tropical diseases, which happen in the same communities.
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