Dr Himmatrao Bawaskar, a Padma Shri awardee for his research into treatment for snakebites, has written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray urging him to take necessary steps to make snakebite a notifiable disease. He has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting the setting up of a dedicated institution for snakebites under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
There is a huge gap between the number of snakebite deaths reported from direct surveys and hospital-based data in Maharashtra as only 7.23 per cent of snakebite deaths are officially reported, Dr Bavaskar wrote. Globally, every five minutes, there is one snakebite death and four others are disabled due to snakebites, he added. There is a lack of data on snakebite envenomation in the country and according to estimates, mortality due to it every year is about 60,000 people in India and 12,000 in Maharashtra, he wrote.
“To bridge this gap, snakebite must be made a notifiable disease. The existing guidelines of MJPJAY (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana) and PMJAY (Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana) provide Rs 25,000 for scorpion stings requiring ventilator support and Rs 50,000 for snakebite with ventilator support. However, a large number of snakebite and scorpion sting patients are denied financial support as only those who require ventilator support are eligible and other patients are excluded,” Dr Bawaskar said in a letter dated April 21, urging the chief minister to amend the guidelines of the MJPJAY so that beneficiaries requiring antivenom can be included.
“All patients of snakebite envenomation should receive antivenom treatment free of cost in private hospitals as well,” Dr Bawaskar wrote. He also urged the chief minister to revise the antivenom treatment as per the national snakebite treatment protocol.
“As part of a collaboration with ICMR-National Institute for Research in Reproductive and Child Health (NIRRCH), findings were published on irrational use of ASV (anti-snake venom) skin test leading to wastage of anti-snake venom. The insert of ASV mentions ASV skin testing and also the doses of ASV in the insert are not as per the latest guidelines of the Government of India and WHO and they need to be revised on priority,” Dr Bawaskar wrote.
In his letter to PM Modi, Dr Bawaskar said that manufacturers are producing polyvalent anti-snake venom effective against snakebites from Indian cobra, common krait, Russell’s viper and saw-scaled viper but there are several species of snakes where this ASV does not work. “There is a geographic variation in the venom of snake species and this needs a national laboratory to coordinate with different states on identifying region-specific snake species and guide the manufacturer for a region-specific ASV production,” Dr Bawaskar wrote to the prime minister and also stressed on the need for periodic research on snakebites.