Dr. Omesh Kumar Bharti and his team found that carrying anti-venom in ambulances can mean the difference between life and death for victims of snake bites. Their research is now helping to save lives across India.
Findings from a study conducted of a free ambulance service carrying anti-venom operating in Himachal Pradesh is helping to save the lives of other snakebite victims across India.
The first documentation of the life-saving innovation, which was carried out in Himachal Pradesh by Dr. Omesh Kumar Bharti and his team from the Directorate of Health Services, found that carrying anti-venom in ambulances can mean the difference between life and death for victims of snake bites in the country’s more rural areas.
The research team’s findings have prompted 15 states and two Union Territories in India to follow the same pattern helping to save the lives of of lakhs of people. The findings have further been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its latest guidelines for snakebite management and could help save the lives of snakebite victims in other parts of the world too.
India is home to around 300 species of snakes. Out of this number, 62 have been identified as venomous & semi-venomous. Although snakebite is largely treatable, India sees a large number of annual fatalities (estimated to be as many as 50,000) and has even been dubbed as the “death by snakebite “capital of the world by Snakebite Healing and Education Society (SHE).
In India, the treatment of snakebites is largely a neglected public health issue despite it being known that many of these deaths can be prevented if action is taken sooner to help the victim.
Snakebite fatalities are more severe in the rural parts of India where farm laborers come in contact with snakes and medical facilities are limited. Anti-venom is the only effective antidote for snake venom and many of the local hospitals and clinics find anti-venom difficult to obtain. Furthermore, limited supply of anti-venom adds to the demand and as a result the distributors sell this life saving drug at an inflated price.
In the higher-elevated areas of India, such as Himachal Pradesh, snake bites are a common cause of mortality due to the presence of a huge fauna flourishing in a favourable temperate climate, including lower temperatures and heavy rainfall. Delays in transporting snakebite victims to the hospital for treatment contributes to the high mortality rates amongst snakebite victims in these areas.
The study by Dr. Bharti and his team evaluated the impact of a free, round-the-clock emergency ambulance service with facilities for anti-snake venom injection. It examined how it can help save lives by responding to a toll free number 108 and transporting the patient to the nearest appropriate hospital within the ‘golden hour’- the first hour of the bite.
The study analyzed the cases of a total of 469 patients of snake bite cases who availed the free emergency ambulance service by calling the toll-free number. The patients in the study were examined for evidence of snake bite and where possible, the snakes were identified based on description, identification and symptoms of envenomation. Based on signs & symptoms, anti-venom was used inside the ambulance, where applicable. All patients were shifted within the golden hour to the nearest appropriate health facility.
The study concluded that ambulances that are fully equipped with all life saving equipment and drugs, including anti-venom, are able to save lives in critical condition of snakebite victims. Based on the study’s conclusion, the report called for the model of free transportation in emergency to be replicated in other parts of the country so that more lives can be saved from snake bites.
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