Zero Bites - A vision towards co-existence with snakes in India
India is one of major contributor to the mortality and morbidity numbers due to venomation resulting out of accidental snakebites. The reasons are multidimensional and made complex due to Silo style working of many organizations and individuals. Though the efforts are being made to work towards single goal by many like-minded groups and activist there is still a long way to go for a system, which encompasses health, & conservation issues towards co-existence with snakes. There is need of single campaign, which works on all issues by making them simpler on ground.
With many superstitions within communities and large number of medically important snake species around human habitats, snakebite deaths create severe challenge to Health systems and conservation efforts. Traditional healers and cultural issues in rural communities pose a severe problem for early treatment of snake bite victims. Quality and availability of anti venom with untrained medical professionals makes another barrier towards overcoming these problems.
We work mainly in the state of Maharashtra in Western India. There is very strong movement of snake friends across the state that help in rescuing snakes from Human habitats and translocate them from these locations. Unfortunately this movement lacks scientific training and approaches. In a decade there are more than 50 deaths within these snake communities due to wrong handling and playing with rescued snakes.
On this background we have launched the ‘ZERO BITE’ campaign with the following objectives.
1) Training snake friends as a zero bite ambassador in their respective geographies for education, early transportation and reporting of snakebite incidences and supporting health professionals.
2) Training PHC (Public Health Centers) medical staff on snakebite management as first responders.
3) Prevention of snake bites within communities by changing habits and practices.
The first campaign was launched by the 1st author, in 42 villages of Himachal Pradesh, a northern state of India in 2014, which resulted in complete reduction of snakebites within grass cutters communities in 2015. In 2017, under this campaign, we managed to get the first SOP and guidelines of snake rescue for state of Maharashtra through the Department of Forest and Wildlife.
Zero Bite campaign works at different levels simultaneously.
The primary or the first level is training snake friends in a district to adopt villages and communities as Zero Bite ambassadors for regularly coordinating, measuring impacts and supporting activities.
The second level is strengthening capabilities at Public Health Centers, trained staff, availability of anti venoms and other supporting drugs and equipment. Once we have a PHC equipped with knowledge and equipment, we will be also launching Zero Death campaign within these centers for Snake bite venomation.
The third level is creating Snake Bite emergency groups at a community level which will act as coordinators for any snake bite scenario in their locality. They are trained with first aid, (RIGHT) speedy transportation and early communication to health centers.
We had organized a state wide conference of snake friends in January 2018 at mahad, which was attended by over 850 Snake friends from the state. At the same time we had also organized Scientific symposium on Snakes which was attended by 150 Students & Scientists. Eminent herpetologists, Doctors & Venom researchers from India, guided both the events.
With our last 4 years experience, we have incorporated the learning and have strengthened our campaigns on many aspects. This presentation is to submit our experience and take advise from Global experts.