According to the snakebite mortality report, Gujarat has an annual snakebite death rate of 3.5 per 1,00,000 population and is one of the 13 states in India with high prevalence of snakebite deaths. Around 2,100 people die in Gujarat every year from 1,34,400 snakebites (bite to death ratio 64:1).
Snakebite treatment in Gujarat is further complicated by the fact that the available polyvalent antivenom does not effectively neutralize the venom injected in snakebite victims. Studies show that venom of snake species varies regionally, which means venom of Naja naja from Tamil Nadu can be significantly different than of Naja naja from Gujarat. Since almost all of the antivenom in India is produced from venom collected from snakes in Tamil Nadu, its efficacy is very low due to the regional variation in venom. In this context, our work on snakebite prevention gains higher importance.
Our community awareness training activities focus on teaching snakebite prevention measures, proper first aid, and promoting modern medical treatment and use of antivenom when bitten. Since 2011, we have worked with several communities from over 500 villages in Gujarat. We are able to cover large areas despite our very limited resources through collaborating with various organisations and individuals that share our goal to reduce snakebites. Maintaining this reach is a huge effort, involving the following measures:
When we work with the rural communities that are most affected, we first achieve a solid understanding of the current practices. This enables us to formulate a mitigation plan and deliver extensive, interactive communication sessions to pass on relevant live-saving knowledge to them. Our ultimate goal here is to see this knowledge become part of their traditional knowledge so correct information can be passed on from one generation to the next.
We collaborate with various village committees (agricultural, dairy, etc.) that have ongoing, well structured outreach programmes. We train elected committee representatives, who them implement better practices in their respective villages.
Partnering with Voluntary Nature Conservancy based in Vidyanagar, Anand (Gujarat) to conduct capacity building programs for rural snake rescuers, nature enthusiasts, and forest department officials. We train them in better practices of (safe) snake handling, as well as in educating people on basic snakebite prevention and management. We are also partnering with them on conducting an epidemiology survey in Anand and Nadiad districts to better inform our work.
Involving more implementation partners that are trained to work independently in their areas, to enable us to scale up.
Collaborating with our conservation partners – Madras Crocodile Bank Trust / Centre for Herpetology, and Into The Wild to develop creative awareness materials that we can use in our programs.
We work very closely with our conservation partner Voluntary Nature Conservancy based in Vidyanagar, Anand (Gujarat). Together, we conduct several capacity building programs for rural snake rescuers, nature enthusiasts, and forest department officials.
At our programmes, we are often asked questions on the treatment facilities in hospitals, effective recovery rates, and related costs- all of which are a major part of preventing deaths due to snakebite. To ensure that these concerns are adequately represented and addressed, we are also- importantly- consulting with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on snakebite treatment and management. With these efforts, treatment for snakebites is offered free of charge in government medical facilities. Moreover, the 108 ambulance facility is proving to be a great boom to rural communities of Gujarat with an average response time of 23 minutes. Their staff is well trained in trauma management, including snake-bites.
We lobbied heavily in 2013 for the state government to set up a specific action group. In March 2014, a State Level Task Force for Snakebite Management was constituted by the Government of Gujarat (Health and Family Welfare Department) to frame and upgrade treatment protocols to incorporate the Standard Treatment Guidelines and prepare literature focusing on preventive measures through community education. Soham Mukherjee was appointed as one of the core members of the task force. Some of the reference guidelines by the task force can be downloaded from the snakebite management download page.