Monsoons are around the corner and so as the lurking fear of snakebites in middle and lower hills of Himachal Pradesh, but that’s not the priority of policy-makers in state.
The snakebite cases keep trickling in hospitals from April-May onwards and reach their peak in July-August-September.
The warmer areas of the state, particularly Kangra, Mandi, Hamirpur and Bilaspur districts, house the deadly snakes such as Cobra and Russel’s Viper, and report the maximum snakebite incidence every year.
Most snakebites occur in agriculture farms during day or in early mornings, when people, who don’t have toilets at home, go out to address nature’s call. In villages, snakes also enter houses at night and bite people when they are asleep.
The state government has though made arrangements for Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) in 108 ambulance, the awareness on snakebite emergency is an ignored aspect and a number of people don’t reach the hospital as such. They take the snakebite victims to ‘ojhas’ (traditional healers) and are taken to hospitals with delay. Most people spoil the case by reacting in panic and taking to wrong methods of first-aid.
The ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ need to be circulated in public before Monsoons, but that's not done.
“We take care of curative side by ensuring that ASV is available at CHC (Community Health Centre) level,” said Dr Rakesh Bhardwaj, state programme officer with health department.
Sources, however, said the staff at the health facility, including doctors, are usually uncomfortable handling snakebite victims for fear of reaction of ASV and often refer the patient to higher institution, resulting in time lapse. There is no training of doctors on this important issue while in service, which their MBBS curriculum also does not take care of.
While there is no scientific data with government on snakebite deaths in HP that can sensitise the policy makers work on it, the number of snakebites in the state may be much more than reported owing to various gaps from the spot of snakebite to the hospital.
The snakebite emergencies handled by 108 ambulance alone in state are around 4,000 over the last six years since the service started.
Out of these, 80 per cent were snakebite patients taken from spot to the nearest and appropriate health facility, and others were referral.
“The 108 ambulance has handled around 2,000 critical snakebite emergencies in six years, where victims could have died had the ambulance not come to their rescue,” said Mehul Sukumaran, state head of GVK-EMRI (the service provider) for National Ambulance Service in HP.
The state has no helpline in case a snake enters a house. The traditional snake catchers are unheard of in Himachal Pradesh and the forest department is silent on it. Sometimes ago, some keen veterinarians in HP had started helping people on call. They would catch snakes and leave them in jungle, but had to drop the idea after foresters (who themselves did not have any solution in hand) raised objections.