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The snake in the room: snakebite’s huge death toll demands a global response

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2449 (Published 05 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2449
  1. Dinsa Sachan, journalist
  1. New Delhi, India
  1. dinsasachan{at}gmail.com

Despite huge mortality in countries such as India, governments are doing nowhere near enough. This month’s World Health Assembly could start to change that by promoting research and training for healthcare workers. Dinsa Sachan reports

Thirteen years ago, Jose Louies, then a snake rescuer, got a routine call from police. A cobra had slithered into a New Delhi slum dwelling. Louies rushed to the location and rescued the snake.

Curiosity also led him to the makeshift chamber of a faith healer who was treating a 3 year old girl who had been bitten by the cobra. After a scuffle with her parents, Louies took the child to the nearest hospital. But she died in his arms on the way.

Now a prominent wildlife conservationist, Louies remembers this as a life changing moment: when the enormity of India’s snakebite problem dawned on him.

Global estimates of deaths from snakebite are around 138 000 a year.1 Three times that number are permanently disabled by venom.

Last year, the World Health Organization finally added snakebite to its list of neglected tropical diseases. It was first added to the list in 2009 but later removed without explanation. In December last year, WHO appointed the Snakebite Envenoming Working Group to develop treatment and prevention strategies for snakebite.

WHO’s decision to declare snakebite a neglected disease, and campaigning from civil society organisations, has put pressure on …

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