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Fear kills not venom Currently, there is a gap between the conservation needs of snake

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Fear kills not venom Currently, there is a gap between the conservation needs of snake

The increasing urbanisation of the landscape has meant that animals, especially reptiles, have learnt to defend themselves more ferociously and are also better at camouflage. Some snake species have proven to be highly adept at surviving and finding prey in concrete landscapes...

Fear kills not venom  Currently, there is a gap between the conservation needs of snake

Currently, there is a gap between the conservation needs of snake species and the human-snake conflict solutions that exist in rural, impoverished communities. These communities are the most impacted by snakebite because they lack access to appropriate medical care. For many, the solution to this snakebite crisis is to kill snakes, oftentimes indiscriminately. Left unaddressed, the indiscriminate killing of snakes will bring already threatened snake species ever closer to extinction while loss of human lives from snakebite will also continue

Avantika Tripathi

Global snake populations are at risk from habitat destruction, disease, over-harvesting, invasive species, climate change and persecution by humans. Though, despite their unwarranted reputation, snakes are critically important for our biosphere. Snakes maintain balance in food web and provide ecological service by controlling pest populations. The conservation needs of most snake species are underfunded, remain poorly understood by researchers, and garner little attention from society. However, as human populations rapidly grow and spread into areas that wildlife depends on, conflict with snakes is becoming increasingly common. Currently, there is a gap between the conservation needs of snake species and the human-snake conflict solutions that exist in rural, impoverished communities. These communities are the most impacted by snakebite because they lack access to appropriate medical care. For many, the solution to this snakebite crisis is to kill snakes, oftentimes indiscriminately. Left unaddressed, the indiscriminate killing of snakes will bring already threatened snake species ever closer to extinction while human lives continue to be lost from snakebite.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has included snakebite into the list of “Neglected Tropical Diseases” (NTDs) —a diverse group of tropical infections affecting poor communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The decision is the culmination of an eight-year-long process. WHO estimates that snakebites kill 100,000 people every year globally. But in stark contrast to “big” diseases like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer, it has never received better treatment and research funding. Activists hope the decision will bring attention to snakebite, so far neglected by pharma firms and policy makers. The reasons are several. Foremost is the problem of inaccurate data. Right now, there is no official system which can give an exact figure of snakebite casualties every year. The government itself is unsure about the numbers. The data on injuries—read necrosis—due to envenoming is similarly sketchy. But the most important cause of India’s runaway snakebite death rate is lack of antivenom. Y K Gupta, Head, Department of Pharmacology and Chief, National Poisons Information Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi highlights that there are various logistical, marketing and economic issues with the production and supply of antivenom. “Currently, there is only one organisation-the Chennai-based Irula Snake Catchers’ Industrial Cooperative Society-which extracts venom from the so-called “Big Four” species of snakes—the Indian Cobra, Common Krait, Saw-Scaled Viper and Russell’s Viper. These cause 98 per cent of snakebite deaths in India. They then sell it to biotech firms that manufacture anti-venom for the entire country,” says Shankar. That is where the trouble starts. “There are reports about companies diluting anti-venom to make more money. For instance, instead of making one vial, the firms will make four by dilution. Thus, patients who need 10 vials of antivenom, may have to take 40 for the same result,” informs Shankar.

Snake venom is of different types: neurotoxic (toxic to the nervous system), haemotoxic (toxic to red blood cells), cytotoxic (toxic to cells) or myotoxic (toxic to muscles). In India, out of 216 snake species, 60 are poisonous. “It would make more sense to use a mixture of various venom types while making antivenom. There should be proper research to understand an area’s snake species. Every state government should establish a venom extracting centre keeping the local species in mind,” advises Shankar. And what of antivenom availability? “Mostly, there are no cold storages at Primary Health Centres (PHCs). Patients, mostly poor, rural farmers, have to rush to tertiary centres. Transportation and sub-sequent treatment are very costly. The few PHCs that do store antivenom don’t receive patients,” points out Shankar.

“A snakebite victim can survive for five hours but the golden (first) hour is critical. If the victim gets treatment within this time frame, chances of his survival go up significantly,” conservationist Vijay Neelakantan elaborates. “In contrast to many other serious health conditions, a highly effective treatment exists,” the WHO writes. “Most deaths and serious consequences of snake bites are entirely preventable by making safe and effective antivenoms more widely available and accessible. High quality snake antivenoms are the most effective treatment to prevent or reverse most of the venomous effects of snake bites.”

Safer haven in cities

The increasing urbanisation of the landscape has meant that animals, especially reptiles, have learnt to defend themselves more ferociously and are also better at camouflage. Some snake species have proven to be highly adept at surviving and finding prey in concrete landscapes. Former IFS Anuj K Saxena says cobras and vipers are, in fact, better at surviving in the cities than in the wild. “Cobras and vipers are rescued more from the cities because of their survival skills. Russell’s Viper especially is an ambush predator. It will just go and sit in the burrows, and wait for a rat or any other animal to enter and then grab hold of it,” he says. Experts also suggest that snakes have adapted their diet to the urban landscape. “They have adapted to the expanding urban jungle by making changes in their diet, habitat and behaviour. They have become a part of the urban ecosystem. Numerous studies have pointed out that snakes do not just stray into urban areas, but are actually very well assimilated in the regions and navigate an intricate network of drains and ditches,” he  adds. The food waste in garbage heaps also attract rodents who then become prey for the reptiles lying in wait. Anuj, in fact, says that while anthills, burrows and piles of rock are widely believed to be safe haven for snakes, these have been replaced by drainage pipes, waste heaps, concrete slabs and small pockets in buildings.

But why do snakes bite?

Conflict between reptiles and humans is nothing new, nor limited to a particular geography. But wildlife experts suggest that often these conflicts share a pattern. Priyanka Kadam is part of WHO’s roster of snakebite experts and President-Founder of Snakebite Healing & Education Society, a civil society working on snakebite mitigation. She says most snake bites are likely to happen during the darker hours as most snakes are nocturnal by nature, that is, they are active during the night. Only cobras are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. Most bites are also inflicted in the lower half of the human body, from the knee to the foot since snakes are ground-dwelling creatures. They generally bite when stepped upon or when they feel threatened, he says. “Snakebites can be avoided simply by wearing a closed pair of shoes, especially during monsoon and by using a flashlight at night. Inside the house, one can prevent snakebites by using a tightly tucked mosquito net and avoiding sleeping on the floor. Controlling rodent population can also help reduce interactions with snakes,” she says.

More deaths in rural areas

At present, no concrete data exists on the ratio of snakebite fatalities in rural and urban areas. But field experts suggest the death toll is higher in rural areas. “The reason behind more deaths in rural areas could be the lack of timely access to life-saving treatment. In many states, primary health centres do not treat snakebites. They refer patients to far away district hospitals without ventilator support. Let’s say a snakebite victim is 60 km from a district hospital, the chances of death while being transported are higher,” says Priyanka Kadam. The most common trope used is where a snakebite victim’s life is saved by someone ‘sucking the venom’ out of the wound, an action that has no basis in science. The other misconception popularised in movies is cure by tantriks, which in real life would delay actual treatment, proving to be potentially fatal for the victim. Then, snakebites are also often dry bites, wherein the bite does not inject sufficient quantity of venom to envenomate the victim. Snakes often use their venom judiciously or in some cases may have exhausted the venom in a previous attack on a prey. “When snakebites occur, people panic and end up succumbing to fear psychosis. Tantriks take advantage of such people because they know that majority of snakes are non-venomous and the majority of bites are raw bites, this is they have no envenomation,” she points out.

UPs oldest snake rescue helpline

“Sir, I got your number from the forest department. Please don’t disconnect. It’s very urgent. It’s a matter of life and death. Please help. I spotted a big snake, beneath an old trunk stored in my garage. I fear if the snake escapes into the garden area, it will pose a threat to my children. Please help.” This appeal came from a harried caller who made a call around 6am to UP’s oldest, and perhaps the only, snake rescue helpline—8090667166!

Monsoon is considered the best of seasons by many and people plan travel trips with family & friends to enjoy it to the fullest. However, there is another aspect to this season- one that is definitely not enjoyable! It is the time when snake burrows get flooded and many of the venomous beings are rendered homeless, thus inadvertently getting into the way of the humans. Aditya Tiwari, a nature enthusiast and snake rescuer, says he remains flooded with snake rescue calls during this time of the year. The operations start at 5 in the morning and may continue till midnight or “by the time my mobile’s battery is drained out”. On an average, Aditya, who runs this free-of-cost helpline, gets eight to 14 calls a day. “It is raining snakes this monsoon in Lucknow. I am flooded with calls. But I am happy, as more than the calls, it matters to me that a greater number of snakes are rescued and released in safer locations. I think it is not the humans, but poor snakes that are in need of help,” says Tiwari, who is also a consultant to the ‘snake house’ at Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden (Lucknow Zoo). “Whenever I receive such a call, I tell the caller same basic things—be calm, stay at a distance, try to identify the snake, keep a watch till we arrive,” adds Tiwari, who launched the snake rescue helpline in 2012.

The seemingly easy task of rescuing snakes actually began in his childhood when he visited a number of temples along with his father, a retired government employee and a staunch believer of Lord Shiva. “Those short trips to temples, during which my father used to touch the snakes with the snake charmers and ask me to touch them as well, are still fresh in my memory,” recollects Tiwari, while going down the memory lane. “I also remember how he used to tell the names of various snakes and describe their habitat to me- those were the good old days,” he says. Other than his father’s interest in snakes, what made him more curious towards the snakes was the curiosity about how a snake moves when it does not have legs. “Out of curiosity, I read all the literature about snakes available on the internet and watched all the shows related to snakes on the wildlife channels to learn about the crawling creatures, which I found very fascinating,” says Tiwari.

Rescued first snake in class 9

“It was a sultry afternoon when my mother shouted that there was a snake and my sister came rushing over to tell me that there was a snake in the house. Having watched so many television shows based on snake rescue, I considered myself as no less than a professional rescuer. I immediately took control of the situation; went into the kitchen, tried to calm down my mother and asked about the colour and location of the snake. The seemingly professional behaviour of mine surprised my parents too who just stood by to watch what I am about to do next. I took my mother’s kitchen tongs and a sock of mine. I took hold of the snake with the help of tongs and guided it into the socks and it was done. That was no less than a Eureka moment for me. But, before I could expect a few words of appreciation, the snake escaped from the tiny hole in the sock and I received thorough scolding from my parents,” he recollects.

First rescue unsuccessful, but taught lesson for life

While recollecting the very first rescue operation, he says the first call was from Chhata Mill in Bakshi Ka Talab (BKT) area where a snake was sighted in a granary. “We rushed to the site. Upon enquiring, we concluded that it was a cobra. I remember that I was holding a tong and I had asked another volunteer, who was holding a torch, to assist me. I managed to get hold of the snake, using a tong and then we heard the loud hiss of the snake, following which the volunteer ran away and now there was pitch dark in the granary again and I was left with a cobra in my hand. I at once threw the cobra in one corner and ran out of the granary. Though it was an unsuccessful rescue operation, it taught me a lot,” he said.


After gaining experiences for good seven years, he registered his own NGO- Paryavarnam- and tried to take snake conservation work to another level. He says he prefers nature conservation to better job opportunities and hence, through the human-animal conflict helpline, he is trying to conserve nature in his own different way. In 10 years of functioning, Tiwari and his group have rescued more than 2,500 snakes and other reptiles. However, his journey as a conservationist has not been an easy one. Presently, Tiwari’s group has 12 members. And, interestingly, of the total numbers of snake rescuers, three of them are girls. “Yes, that’s true. We have 50 percent boys and 50 percent girls in our team. And I must tell you that the youngest girl in our team is a 20-year-old and has rescued several venomous snakes with ease,” he says. While giving a brief idea about the group of ‘dare-devils’, he says almost all the group members are professionals and are working together voluntarily out of environmental interest. “In the group, we first teach them how to identify a snake or any reptile. This helps the volunteer in identifying and easing the rescue process. He says the motto of the group is to prevent man-animal conflict.

Prachi, a snake rescuer@20

Prachi is youngest snake rescuer among this gang of 12. Prachi who is sister of Aditya, is perhaps the youngest female snake-catcher-cum-rescuer who is a part of Uttar Pradesh’s one of the oldest snake/reptile-rescuing-helpline operating in the state capital and in the adjoining districts. During initial days as a rescuer, I was underestimated. I still remember the time when I first went to rescue a snake, she tells. On getting an SOS call reporting a large python in the open area of the zoo, the 20-year-old rushed to the spot and took control of the situation. It was found that it was a fat Indian rock python, around 6-feet-long, weighing several kilos. Also, the staffers of the zoo were overheard saying  that she was too young to handle a snake. However, undeterred by the negative remarks and odd looks from the people around, armed with the hook and bag, she successfully rescued the python. “I was just focussing on the snake. I want to tell people it’s not your body composition but your rescuing skills that matter while rescuing a snake,” she says. In her almost 12-month stint as a snake rescuer, she has accomplished around 12 rescue operations and has rescued some 12 non-venomous snakes including python, rat snake, checkered keelback, common kukri etc. Prachi, who aspires to become an IFS (Indian Forest Services) officer, became a part of the helpline two year back in June only after celebrating her 18th birthday. “Presently, I am allowed to handle only non-venomous snakes and soon I will be handling venomous as well,” she says.

Devyani, another woman snake rescuer

Of the all the female snake/reptile rescuers, 31-year-old Devyani Singh is the senior most (among female group members) with the expertise in rescuing the venomous snakes. In her almost 6-year-long innings as a rescuer, she has rescued more than 80 snakes and other reptiles. Cobra, Common Krait, Russel’s Viper and Saw Scaled viper are a few among the list of venomous snakes that she has rescued. Despite accomplishing more than 80 rescue operations, she says rescuing snake, especially the poisonous one, is not at all easy. While narrating her recent most experience while rescuing a snake, she says: “We got a call from Parag Dairy near Bhaisakunth, Lucknow informing about a snake on a battery-loaded truck. We rushed to the spot and asked the staffers to stay away. Upon boarding the truck, we came to know that it was a cobra that was hiding between the batteries. While we were trying to bag the snake, we heard a ‘hiss’ from another corner and to our surprise we noticed another male cobra that was in an attacking mode. It took me more than half an hour to tackle the situation. This rescue operation would be remembered throughout the life. There are several such stories to tell.”  She says she is thankful to her mother Rooma Chauhan, a retired official from National Boatanical Research Institute (NBRI), for motivating her throughout the journey. “I know how tough it is for a mother to allow her daughter to pursue her dream of rescuing snakes. But I am thankful to her as she always motivated me,” she added. She says she would like to build a career in the same field and would continue to live up the motto of the Paryavarnam helpline that is to save human-animal conflict and to minimise the snake bite cases to zero.

Snakebites on rise in UP’s flood affected districts

Other than the urban city like Lucknow, where ‘it is raining snakes’, the situation is even worse in the flood affected districts of Uttar Pradesh, especially in East UP, where flood has wreaked havoc. Chandauli, one of the flood affected districts of east U.P, tops the list with 52 snake bite cases (in the current financial year). In 2021, the district had recorded 89 cases of snake bite. “Snake bites cases in Chandauli are in abundance. We have distributed anti-snake venom at all the PHCs and CHCs in order to cater to the snake bite cases,” says Chandauli chief medical officer Dr YK Rai. Rai informs that an awareness drive had also been launched to help keep people safe at the time of floods. “We are telling them not to venture out all alone, always carry a stick and torch and, in case of snake bite, do not panic, just rush to the nearby PHC or CHC. We have made the anti-snake venom available in abundance,” says Rai. He adds the people have also been told to not fall a prey to quacks. 

Ghazipur, second highest in snakebite cases

Ghazipur, another flood affected district, stood second with 43 cases. In 2021, it had recorded 65 snake bite cases. Azamgarh is third with 25 cases. In 2021, Azamgarh had recorded 6 cases. Bhadohi has witnessed 19 snake bite case so far. In 2021, the district had recorded eight cases. Sonebhadra has recorded 10 snake bite cases this year against 21 such cases in 2021. Mirzapur has recorded four cases against 10 last year. Varanasi has recorded two cases of snake bite against 16 in 2021, suggests data with the relief commissioner.   “Cases of snake bite increase in the flood infested areas. The snakes come out of their habitat and come in contact with humans. As a result, the snake bite cases spikes during or post flood phase,” says an official with the relief commissioner’s office who did not wish to be quoted. Officials with the relief commissioner’s office say a majority of cases have been fatal. However, they are yet to segregate the number of deaths that have occurred due to snake bites.

UP Government’s drive to make anti-venom  available at PHCs and CHCs

The UP government has launched a special drive to make anti-snake venom available at the PHCs and CHCs. On his recent visit to east U.P, including Ghazipur and Varanasi, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed the health department to make all possible arrangements to keep a check on snake bite cases and make anti-snake venom available at all the primary health centres (PHCs) and community health centres (CHCs).

Fighting off snake venom

Both venomous and non-venomous snakes are extremely wary of humans and are not prone to strike. Harm is done when one unintentionally puts his hand or foot on the snake. A bite is the last-ditch effort by a snake to save itself

Avantika Tripathi

Being a 1969 Punjab University Graduate and a national pole vault player, 73-year old Kuldeep Singh Dugga, who hails from Naurangabaad village of Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh on Indo-Nepal borders, had many job offers. But the young surd preferred to stay back in Naurangabaad—the village is infamous for highly venomnous snakes like cobra, russell viper, krait and mamba—to carry forward his family’s legacy of giving free of cost anti-venom treatment to people. Dugga, who is a prosperous farmer and owns over 200 bighas of farmland, says it was purely ‘sewa bhaav that made him stay back in the village to serve mankind. Dugga has been giving free of cost treatment through medically-approved-drugs for the past 49 years and claims to have saved more than 10,000 lives so far. And because of his selfless deeds, Dugga is considered to be a saviour not only among the people of his district but also of other districts falling in 100km radius that includes areas of Nepal as well.

“I don’t need money. By God’s grace, I have everything. My sons are settled—one in Canada and other is taking care of the farm. It is purely ‘sewa bhaav out of which I give completely free of cost anti-venom treatment to those who suffer snake bites. By treating people- mostly farmers, illiterates and destitute- we are serving humanity in whatever way God has made us capable of. It gives us immense satisfaction,” says Kuldeep Singh Dugga, a snake-bite healer, who is a prosperous farmer. Dugga himself is a prosperous farmer of Naurangabaad strongly believes that saving a life is the biggest religion on earth. Though he hasn’t maintained any record of those who he has healed in the past 49 years, according to the people of the district he has saved more than 10,000 lives so far.

Over 90 species of snakes

On Indo-Nepal border, the district is in terai lowlands and has over 300 square kilometres of forest areas comprising Dudhwa National Park, with lush green vegetation and several rivers-Sharda, Ghagra, Koriyala, Ull, Sarayan, Saryu, Mohana, Gomti and Chauka- passes through. Perhaps it is the only reason the region is also a home to hundreds of snake species. A few foresters say there are more than 90 species of snakes that include rarest of the rare green mamba and coral red kukri snakes. And thus, the rate of snake bite cases is quite a high in the district. In such a grim situation, Dugga is a saviour for many. People say Dugga has not lost a single case so far and is often consulted by the doctors for his expertise and experience in handling snake-bite cases. Snake bites and snakes are so common that people here have evolved their own lingo to define the identity of a snake. In local lingo, Cobra is called as Bhaisa Doom, and Russell Viper as Behra Bajaj. An interesting fact about snakes is that of all only 30 percent of snakes are poisonous. But people die out of fear and heart attack. Ramesh Pandey, field director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve say, the district being a terai region is a house of wide variety of snakes. And of these, the snakes like cobra, Russell viper and krait are highly venomous and become a cause of death for many.

Inherited theart of healing from his mother

Dugga inherited the ‘art of healing’ from his mother Harvansh Kaur, who used to administer anti-venom medicines to the rural folks. “In those days too, snake bites used to be a major concerned for the people here. It was for the same reason a Kanpur-based medicine company that used to manufacture an anti-venom oil-Kaalia tel -had set up a camp in our village and my mother had volunteered to administer the oil to those who suffered snake bites,” Dugga recollects. On one fine day when Dugga, who then had just completed his graduation from Punjab University was on visiting his home, a badly bitten farmer was brought to his mother by his wife and children. But, since he arrived almost an hour after the snake bite, he could not be saved. The death of the farmer left me shocked and at that very moment I decided to stay back in the village and help those who suffer snake bite. “I inherited the art from my mother. But that was not enough to treat the cases of snake bites as the district is home to a great variety of snakes and every specie attacks in a different way and injects different quantity of poison into the human body. Hence, I decided to study first and then take things in my hand,” he elaborates.

Identifying snake through bite mark

Close study of the snake specie helped him a lot. But he says what really helped him was the experience he gained by handling of the cases of snake bites. While handling snake bite cases, he says he got an answer to all his queries that were mentioned nowhere in the books. “Through experience I learned that each snake attacks in a different way and their nature of venom too differ from each other and affects human body in a different way- like in case of cobra bite, the colour of pupil will change and the distance between the bite mark of the two teeth would be less than half a centimetre,” he said. Similarly, the bite mark of Russell viper is a little bit wider than that of cobra. This experience, he says, really helped him in handling the cases well as most of the time people fail to tell the specie of snake that has bitten them. “In this situation, I first detect which snake has bitten the person and then start the treatment accordingly,” he points out.

Dugga says he does not believe in superstition, neither do he has any ‘magical herbs’ or ancestral recipe of medicine. “I simply use the medicines that are prescribed for the snake bites. I am no quake who often fool people. I use two main medicines- Lexin, manufactured by Lexin Laboratory Mihijam in Bihar and other one is a homeopathic medicine Naza 200,” he explains. ‘Indicated for all kind of snake-poisonings: Cobra, krait, Russel viper, rattle snake and venom-nous insects. How to use Lexin? Put about 30 drops of medicine on a piece of a cloth and hold it closely, covering the nostrils and inhale deeply so that the medicine reaches to the lungs and prevents the affected person from fainting,’ reads the pamphlet with the medicine. But medicines are of no help if not used in a proper way or in accordance with the nature of venom. The cost of Lexin that he says is the most important medicine is Rs 1200. Until 2010, the cost of the medicine was Rs150. One bottle can save life of three. Prior 2010, he says he used to use anti-venom oil manufactured by a company of Kanpur. But the company was closed down  in 2010, after which he switched over to another medicine-Lexin- with anti-venom properties.

On an average the 71-year-old snake-bite healer receives more five to six cases a day. And of these, a large number of cases are of cobra bite. How snake bite cases are treated? “When any person with snake bite approaches me, the first thing done is the identification of the snake (in case the victim fails to see the snake) either through the bite mark, colour of the pupil and change in body colour,” he said. Soon after a cut is made at the place of snake bite from where the injected blood is sucked-out using a suction pump, after which he starts the course of medicines, Lexin and Naza 200 as per the condition of the patient. If the patient is serious, he is often assisted by a doctor to inject medicines to the patient in order to revive him and to prevent blood clotting. It generally takes almost two hours to bring the patient back to normalcy. He claims that by God’s grace he hasn’t lost a single case in his 49-year-long practice as a snake-bite healer. Snake-human encounter he says is more frequent during summer season when they are out on hunt and during rainy season while rest of the year they remain hibernate.

Saving a 28-year-old bitten by cobra on head was challenging

Suresh, an agricultural labour says this is his second life. While working on fields, under a tree shade Suresh suffered sharp pain in his head after which he complained to fellow workers who spotted snake-bite marks on his head. “Since field was nearby, the fellow workers rushed him to my place within minutes. But it was a challenging task as there wasn’t any way through which the blood circulation could be stopped. Had it been a case of any snake-bite on any limb, it could have been tied to stop the blood circulation in rest of the body,” Dugga recollects. Without further delay, he began the treatment and placed a suction pump on his head to suck out the blood and administered him heavy doses of medicines that saved him from fainting. “By God’s grace we managed to save him,” he said.

A boy who was bitten 13 times by cobra

Out of the many cases, the case of a boy of Naurangabaad who was bitten 13 times by the same snake was the most unusual one he ever came across. “I still remember the day, around 6 years back, when he was brought by his family for the first time. And it was followed by another 12 times and all the time it was the same snake that bit him when he was out on the field to work. Interestingly, the other family members too were working in field but no one else was attacked by the snake. The question why snake was after him still bothers me,” he said. Though he managed to treat the boy every time, at last he asked him to wear gumboots while working on the fields. In fact, it was after this incident that the management of Kauriala Ghat Gurudwara on Indo-Nepal border allocated vehicles to ferry people in need to his expertise.

Dos and Don’ts in case of snake-bite

Other than treating people, Dugga family is also creating awareness among the rural folk, educating them of the ways to save life in case of snake bites. “It has been observed that it is less the poison and more the awareness that kills people who suffer snake bite,” he says. The thumb rule, in case of snake bites is to tie the single bone part of the affected limb. “If not with the rope, one can use the shirt to tie the limb, be it hand or leg from the single bone as it will help in slowing down the blood circulation in other part of the body thus would give more time to the one who is treating the patient,” he said. Never run in case of snake bite, he said as running would against expedite the blood circulation resulting in death. Be calm and patient as many times it is not the snake that kills but heart attack and high blood.

Cobra is the best snake, don’t like to waste its venom

Cobra is the best snake, he believes. “This particular specie of snake, though highly venom-nous is my favourite as it does not attack without any reason and also does not like to waste its venom by injecting too much of it in the body of its prey,” he said. He says it is quite easy to detect patient with cobra bite as it’s bite mark is small and quantity of venom injected is also less. “Though it injects less quantity of venom, but the patient with cobra bite needs to be treated immediately as its venom does not give much time to the patient and kills in an hour or so.

Locals blame poor health infrastructure & insensitive medical staff

Though the district has reportedly well-equipped community health centres, locals blame insensitive attitude of the medical staff in handling snake-bite cases. There are many who say that the CHCs are ill-equipped with anti-venom vials and prefer referring the cases either to the district headquarter or to Lucknow. “People at CHCs seem least sensitive. I lost my wife to their insensitiveness,” says Sarfaraz Alam of Munshigarh, whose wife Imamzadi was bitten by snake recently and could not be saved. Alam claims his wife was working on field when she was attacked by krait. “We rushed her to the CHC, where staff refused to admit her and asked me to take her to district hospital. She passed away soon after. Had they administered anti-venom vial, she could be saved. Now I have a 9-month-baby to look after singlehandedly,” the aggrieved husband cries. Some people also blamed CHCs of shortage of vial and say the doctors are not trained to handle the snake-bite cases where survival of the patient depends upon the responding time. Similar is the case of Sonu, 9, who hailed from Kherigadh village. He lost his life due to snake bite after the community health centre referred him to the district hospital. “We took him to CHC in Ninghasan tehsil where the medical staff completed the formality, injected him one vial and referred him to district hospital. We lost him while we were on the way to hospital,” claims Mishrilal, Sonu’s uncle.

Over 350 cases in last 6 months

If the records with the health department are to be believed, Lakhimpur district has recorded around 362 cases of snake bites in past 6 months. Of these, the maximum cases of snake bites were recorded in Lakhimpur development block of the district. The block recorded 114 cases of snake bites. It was followed by Kumbhi Gola blocl where 100 cases of snake-bites were reported in past 6 months. Similarly in Ramia Behar, Isanagar, Dhaurera, Ninghasan and Palia blocks 16, 4, 25, 52 and 51 cases of snake bites were reported. “In the past six months, the district has reported around 362 cases of snake bites at the community health centres (CHCs’),” confirms Dr Matadeen, additional Chief Medical Officer (ACMO) Lakhimpur Kheri. Interestingly, the records with ACMO show zero death rate at the CHCs as he says all the cases are referred either to the district hospital or to Lucknow. Still, Dr Matadeen says that the CHCs are well equipped to combat the cases of snake-bites. He sticks to the claim that there is no shortage of anti-venom vials at the CHCs. “All CHC’s are well equipped with anti-venom vials. We have ensured the supply of at least 60 anti-venom vials at every CHCs to ensure immediate medical assistance to the patient of snake-bite. Besides, there is also a stock of the anti-venom vials at the district hospital. Apart from the 362 cases that have been reported, there are thousands of cases that are never reported at the CHCs.”

Snakebite now in UP Govts disaster relief list 

UP Government in August this year shot an order, expanding the eligibility for compensation through the State Disaster Relief Fund. In the order along with other tragedies, it also included man-animal conflict and snake bites. Besides, it also announced the compensation amount to the families of people who die in such tragedies up to Rs 4 lakh. UP Government’s move came after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath moved by the rise in the cases of snake-bites in the monsoon season. The government has already issued a notification in this regard. Up till now only those injured, dead or financially hit due to rain, lightning strikes, storms, floods, earthquakes, heat wave and other natural phenomena were covered under the State Disaster Relief Fund. But the most unfortunate part is that most of the people are not even aware of the provisions and never report snake bite cases.

Demanding snakebite helpline and quick response team

S Mohammed Haider, a Lucknow based social activist who had taken up many social issues in Lakhimpur Kheri district, has approached the state government, demanding Snakebite helpline and deployment of Quick Response Teams (QRTs) in the snake infested districts of UO including Lakhimpur Kheri. “That the cases of snakebite need to be handled with speed and precision as time is of essence, and any delay in addressing this issue may lead to the death of the victim, and therefore there is an urgent need, not only of a dedicated helpline for this but also deployment of a team of qualified doctors and paramedics to handle such cases, in the form of a Quick Response Team (QRT) to be available 24x7” reads the representation he has given to Principal Secretary, department of Medical, Health and Family Welfare, UP.

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