BHUBANESWAR: Large-scale interventions notwithstanding, Odisha has been witnessing 1,000 deaths annually due to snakebite for the last five years, making it one of the worst state-specific disasters. Keeping in view the increasing number of deaths due to snakebite every year, Odisha in 2015 had declared it a state-specific disaster, becoming the first state in the country to do so. It rolled out a slew of measures to prevent such incidents. In 2018, the state government also worked out an action plan to contain the number of deaths. But, five years down the line, not much seems to have changed on the ground. Statistics suggest the state between 2018-19 and 2022-23 has recorded 4,870 deaths.
As per the statistics of the disaster management wing, snake bites claimed at least 1,026 lives in 2018-19 which subsequently plunged to 929 in 2019-20. The figure, however, jumped again to a staggering 1,185 in 2020-21. The year 2021-22 and 2022-23, however, witnessed a marginal drop with 954 and 745 deaths respectively.
In 2023-24, snakebite incidents have claimed at least 34 lives so far including those of three children in Keonjhar on Sunday. Snakebite, in fact, was the second worse state-specific disaster after drowning in 2022.
Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA) MD Gyana Ranjan Das said keeping in view the deaths due to snakebite, a Snakebite Mitigation Programme is being worked out to take up awareness activities and strengthen health infrastructure in vulnerable blocks of different districts.
He said OSDMA is also working with the Health Department and experts from other states to train health professionals at the grassroots to deal effectively with such cases. Herpetologist and scientist from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) Pratyush Mohapatra, on the other hand, said the detection of large number of snakebite cases and related deaths is a healthy sign as they are being reported, which wasn’t the case earlier.
He said there are certain high-alert districts including Keonjhar, Balasore, Bhadrak and Ganjam where cases of snakebite are relatively high, primarily due to factors such as remote pockets, flood-prone areas and lack of awareness. “Awareness is less as many people still believe in traditional methods of healing,” he pointed out.
Mohapatra said though snakebites are occurring due to various reasons, it is not fatal as deaths can be prevented with timely intervention. “Strengthening of health infrastructure, especially in the post-Covid phase, where many hospitals now have ventilators, is proving helpful in reducing snakebite-related deaths in the state,” he said. The ZSI scientist said during a meeting a few months back, the government had decided to have trained manpower in CHCs and subsequently in PHCs.
Snake Helpline general secretary and honorary wildlife warden of Khurda Subhendu Mallik said apart from increasing awareness and strengthening health infrastructure, Odisha should manufacture region-specific anti-snake venom to deal with cases.