August 06, 2007

WHO shows AP govt 'Right' way to treat snake-bites

Snake-bite treatment in the state may receive a boost with the Centre having decided to form a protocol for treatment. Due to lack of data and proper training to doctors, every year, out of an estimated 18,000 who get bitten by snakes in the state, 2,500 persons die.

Though our country is neither home to the most number of snakes, nor to the most venomous ones, it records 2.5 lakh bites annually, of which 50,000 prove fatal. After the World Health Organisation (WHO) stepped in, the government is finally giving some attention to this serpentine problem.

"There are about 13 species of snakes in Andhra Pradesh that could cause life threatening symptoms, and we expect that research will reveal at least five more," WHO toxicologist and herpetologist Dr Ian D Simpson said. "Training, advice and research in Indian institutions will be WHO's contribution towards snake bite treatment in Andhra Pradesh," said Dr Ian.

A recent study conducted by WHO revealed that 70 per cent of the doctors did not have enough knowledge about the proper treatment of snake bites. "Western textbooks that Indian doctors study from, are inapplicable in India, which is why most doctors are not confident of the treatment. This makes training very crucial," said Dr Ian. Due to this problem, doctors end up giving snake anti-venom, or antivenin indiscriminately, triggering severe allergic reactions and even death.

Due to lack of proper research, the exact number of deaths by snake bite as well as data on the variety and population of snakes remain unknown.

Director of Health, Dr P Venkateswara Rao said it is only now that 8,000 doctors are being trained in treatment for snake bites.

Doctors in Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs), District Hospitals and Tertiary medical centres will be trained to confidently handle snake bites cases. Only cases beyond their expertise will be referred to bigger hospitals. Poor guidelines for treatment and high cost of antivenin, up to Rs 500 per vial, makes first aid the focus of education.

WHO advocates the do it RIGHT method, of Reassuring the patient, Immobilising him or her, Getting to a Hospital immediately and Telling the doctor the symptoms. The conventional methods of tourniquets, cutting and pressure bandages have proved to cause more harm than good.

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