The Indian government must step up and support this strategy with the urgency and attention it demands.
New Delhi 23 May 2019 – The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Indian Snakebite Initiative based at Chennai’s Madras Crocodile Bank welcome the release today of the long-anticipated World Health Organization (WHO) strategy on the prevention and management of snakebite envenoming, with the ambitious targets to cut in half the number of snakebite deaths and cases of disability by 2030.
Governments like India must step up now and respond to snakebite with the urgency and attention this neglected public health crisis demands.
“This is an opportunity to finally get serious about tackling snakebites in India and stop unnecessary deaths and disabilities from snakebites,” said Romulus Whitaker from the Indian Snakebite Initiative.
Snakebite remains an underestimated cause of accidents in modern India. According to the ‘Million Deaths Study’ as many as a million Indians are bitten by snakes every year and over 45000 human lives are lost to snakebites every year across India.
Globally, every year, an estimated 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes, up to 2.7 million of whom are envenomed ( venom getting into the blood via a bite or being sprayed into the eyes), resulting in death for more than 100,000 people and life-long disfigurement and disability for 400,000 more.
Snakebite envenoming overwhelmingly afflicts the rural poor, including migrant workers, farmers, and displaced people fleeing conflict or violence, and kills more people than any other disease on WHO’s Neglected Tropical Diseases list. MSF has witnessed the devastating impact of snakebites on victims, their families and communities in many of the places we work.
The supply of anti-venom treatments continues to be a problem in the most affected countries including in India. In some cases, products that have been found ineffective are still being marketed and there is an urgent need to for the production of safer, stronger, more effective anti-venoms free from the dangers of allergic reaction.
“Many more lives could be saved if all snakebite victims had access to timely and appropriate care, including antivenoms,” said Julien Potet, Policy Advisor on Neglected Tropical Diseases for MSF. “To ensure access to affordable, quality-assured antivenoms, the effectiveness of existing products must be urgently assessed, and additional funds must be pledged to develop an international mechanism to subsidise and guarantee a stable supply of antivenoms. Antivenoms must be available and free-of-charge to people affected by snakebite, for whom access is a matter of life or death.”
Indian Snakebite Initiative: The project is a part of Global Snakebite Initiative managed by Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Centre for Herpetology and Indiansnakes.org. Its main focus is on prevention of snakebite by outreach and awareness programmes in rural India, and collection of venom samples for research to improve antivenoms.
MSF’s medical activities to address snakebites: the medical humanitarian organisation admitted more than 3,000 patients to its clinics for snakebite in 2017, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Around half of these people required antivenom treatment, which MSF provides free of charge. The majority of snakebite patients were treated in MSF projects in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen. MSF also treated significant numbers of people in Tanzania, Kenya, Cameroon, Sudan and Sierra Leone.
WHO fact sheet on Snake antivenoms is available here: https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/snakebite-envenoming
More information on snakebites from WHO is available here: https://www.who.int/health-topics/snakebite