Snake-bites kill more people than cyclones in Odisha, experts tell you why
The death of six people, including an Anganwadi worker and her 8-year-old son in Kandhamal district, in the last 24 hours due to snake-bites has brought to the fore that deaths due to snakebites have been rising in Odisha. In fact, more people die in this venomous attack by reptiles in the coastal state than by natural disasters.
Experts attribute it to better reporting for getting compensation.
Odisha government statistics between 2016 and 2019 show that of the total 6,228 deaths that took place due to various calamities, snakebite deaths alone accounted for 2,217 lives surpassing casualties due to cyclones, floods, lightning, fire accidents and boat tragedies. In the financial year 2019-20, so far 325 people have died of snakebites.
Experts say there are primarily four reasons for the large number of snake bite cases.
Odisha government officials familiar with the development said, before 2015, when Odisha declared snakebite deaths to be state-specific disasters with a provision of compensation of Rs 4 lakh for the next of the kin, there were little records of snakebite deaths.
“Though before 2015, people may have died of snakebite, there was no incentive to take the bodies to government hospitals for post-mortem. The compensation is now an incentive to take the victims to hospitals and so that could be one reason of the spike,” Prabhat Mohapatra, joint relief commissioner in the office of special relief commissioner said.
Another reason is the inability of the victims to comprehend that they were bitten by poisonous snakes like kraits, Russel’s Vipers and cobras, the three most common varieties of poisonous snakes found in Odisha. Herpetologist Sushil Dutta said some snakes don’t cause much pain while biting a human and by the time the victim realises he or she has been bitten, the toxin spreads through the body impairing the functioning of major organs. “Many of the poisonous snakes are nocturnal and so most of the deaths occur at night when the victims are either sleeping or can’t see what bit him/her,” said Dutta.
The third reason is the delay in taking the victims to a hospital for treatment and lack of venin in rural community health centres.
Medicine specialist Dr Lambodar Panda says response time plays a great factor in the cure of snakebite victims. “Even the largest venom dose of any snake can be neutralised by anti-venom but the golden hour must be kept in mind. In many rural areas, the families of the victims waste a lot of time in taking them to sorcerers before shifting to hospitals for treatment,” he said, terming delay in taking the patient to the hospital as a reason for high deaths.
According to government protocol, antivenin should be available in the primary health centres, the first rung of the three-tier healthcare system. But, hundreds of PHCs don’t have antivenin, government officials admit. In some PHCs where venin is available, the protocol requires that a MBBS doctor should administer the injection. In absence of them, the victims are referred to district hospitals leading to time loss to control spread of the venom, a government official said.
Experts also said that habitat loss due to rapid urbanization is pushing snakes to homes of people, increasing their conflict with humans. Dutta said with rapid urbanisation happening, most snakes are losing their habitations and are now seen living close to human habitations. In India, every year, 2.8 million people are bitten by snakes, resulting in 46,900 deaths.