‘About 1.2 million’ died of snake bites in India

An eastern brown snake. /Reuters

An estimated 1.2 million Indians died from snakebites over the past two decades, a worrying statistic that threatens a World Health Organization call to halve global snakebite deaths by 2030.

A report by eLife notes that nearly half of the snakebite victims were aged 30-69, and over a quarter of them were children under 15.

People living in densely populated low altitude agricultural areas in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, suffered 70% of deaths during the period 2001-2014, particularly during the rainy season when encounters between snakes and humans are more frequent at home and outdoors.

Russell’s vipers, kraits and cobras were responsible for most of the deaths. The remaining deaths were caused by at least 12 other species of snakes.

Many of the attacks proved fatal because they happened in areas without swift access to medical care.

Following the report, the WHO called for more nationwide epidemiological studies in snakebite endemic countries.

The agency also called for additional nationally representative studies together with increasing mapping resolution and multi-sourced data granularity, including both hospital-based mortality and morbidity data including those collected at the community level. It noted that these are needed for more targeted and effective public health interventions in other snakebite endemic countries.

According to the WHO, between 81,000 and 138,000 people are killed by snake bites each year globally. About three times that number survive but are left with permanent disabilities.