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The TrickyRescuer: Saving Lives, Securing Jobs

by Team TrickyScribe
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The TrickyScribe: Man vs the Wild is not always delightful! Animal bites contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality in children and adults in certain parts of the world, with bites arising from snakes, dogs, cats, and monkeys being the important contributors.

Team TrickyRescuer led by PU animal activist Ahbar, rescuing a snake on the university campus

Five million snakebites occur globally each year, causing between 81,000 and 1.38 lakh deaths and nearly 4 lakh amputations and other permanent disabilities. South Asia has the highest incidence of venomous snakebites in the world. Within the region, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka together constitute nearly 70% of global snakebite mortality.

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Each year an estimated 50,000 Indians are killed by snakebites as rural India struggles to get the adequate amount of antidotes and trained hands to tackle one of the commonest-but-neglected public health worries.  

According to India’s latest National Health Profile (published in 2018), there were 1.78 lakh and 1.42 lakh snakebite cases in 2016 and 2017 respectively with corresponding death figures of 1,063 and 948.  

There are under-reporting of snakebites in India. The official figures are based on hospital data while not many snakebite victims reach even a health centre. The only pan-Indian estimate of snake bite deaths was carried out by an international team of researchers led by Prabhat Jha from the University of Toronto, as a part of his Million Death Study. It puts the annual death estimate at 50,000 back in 2005.

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Around 90% of snakebite deaths in India are from one of these “big four” varieties of venomous snakes.

1. Common Krait (Bungarus caeruleus)                 

2. Binocellate Cobra (Naja naja)               

3. Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii)

4. Saw Scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)

Poor treatment

In many parts of South Asia, only half of patients reach a health centre within six hours of a bite, with the bite-to-treatment delay being as long as 12 to15 days in some cases.

High fatalities

As a result, 70-80% of fatalities happen before patients reach the health facility.

Rural problem

Nearly 97% of snakebite deaths in India occur in rural areas. Sparse distribution of health facilities in rural areas results in patients having to travel long distances for treatment.

Antivenom production remains low

Snake venom is of different types: neurotoxic (toxic to the nervous system), haemotoxic (toxic to red blood cells), cytotoxic (toxic to cells) or myotoxic (toxic to muscles).

In India, out of 216 snake species, 60 are poisonous, as per a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology in 2014. Not every state government should establish a venomextracting centre keeping the local species in mind.

Reasons for low production of antivenin

Several manufacturers and suppliers of Indian antivenin have recently ceased operations citing reasons of price control, poor animal husbandry practices, and venom shortage.

Poor treatment

In many parts of South Asia, only half of patients reach a health centre within six hours of a bite, with the bite-to-treatment delay being as long as 12 to15 days in some cases.

Perils of the Construction Workers

There are such 8.5 million workers engaged in building and other construction activities in India. They constitute the most vulnerable segment amongst the unorganised workforce in the country owing to their temporary nature of work and lack of a definite employee-employer relationship. Not limiting the perils here, they suffer proper threat to their lives from the snakes in most cases at the onset of new construction projects.

Benefits of The TrickyRescuer

Training workers for rescuing snakes and first aid can be beneficial for any builder in two possible ways
1. Protecting his/her workforces from being bitten by snakes and the subsequent expenses incurred on treatment and compensations. Extra skills would draw regular monetary and social rewards to the trainees post successful completion of training and subsequent certification.

2. The same trainees if deputed on finished projects can help the builder agency gain post-delivery revenue, the same way like pest control. Regular workshops for raising public awareness on snakes and snakebites can be helpful.

(Story published originally on November 18, 2019 an updated only with the video on November 28, 2019)

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