Lifestyle & Belief

India's snakebite deaths reveal health care shortcomings


Snake handler Subhendu Malllik holds up an Indian baby cobra hatchling after it emerged from an egg on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar on June 21, 2011. The Indian cobra (naja naja) is a venomous snake indigenous to South Asia, found across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.



Snakebite kills 50,000 Indians a year, but the deadly venom isn't the only thing you have to worry about, Shahina KK writes in a revealing article for this week's OPEN.

It's just as likely that you'll get to the hospital to find that they don't have any anti-venom, or it's not the right kind, or the facility doesn't have the right equipment needed to clean your blood.

Forty-eight hours after the snakebite, Maria Benedict met her end in Bangalore. Her death was not inevitable. It came of organ failure: her kidneys shut down. One of the hospitals she had the misfortune of going to did not have a dialysis machine that was suitable for use on children, though it had a well-

equipped ICU for patients with disorders brought on by wealthier pursuits. Also, the Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) serum she was given did not prove effective enough as an antidote.

Cobra documentary maker Romulus Whitaker is leading a research effort to replace the current broadstroke ASV -- which works on bites from the Spectacled Cobra, Common Krait, Russell’s Viper and Saw-Scaled Viper, aka "the Big Four" -- with more specific antidotes, Shahina explains. But currently the government doesn't have an action plan like the ones for malaria, filaria, polio and other such diseases.