Updated February 21st, 2024 at 13:34 IST

Karnataka Government Declares ‘Snakebite’ a Notifiable Disease: ‘A Pivotal First Stride’

Karnataka government aims to improve surveillance, prevention, and treatment of the snakebite cases.

Reported by: Digital Desk
A representative image of snake. | Image:Pixabay
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In what is being hailed as a pioneering decision, the government in Karnataka, in a first, declared ‘snakebite’ as a notifiable disease to mitigate the fatal incidences. In accordance with the mandate, the authorities and health facilities across the state will have to report the cases of snakebite to the government officials via an Integrated Health Information Platform.

The initiative came in lieu of steeping cases of the snakebites in the state, many of which go unreported despite that they cause serious hazards or physical injuries, or could even risk fatality in case of venomous snakes.

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India holds dubious title of ‘world capital’ for the snakebites incidences, accounting to half of globe’s snakebite related deaths, with annual average of 58,000 cases reported. Most cases of snakebites occur in just eight states—Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Karnataka government aims to improve surveillance, prevention, and treatment of the snakebite cases. Between January and mid October in 2023, there were an estimated 5,316 incidents involving snakebites.

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The directive that was passed by the Karnataka Health Department, is applicable to both private as well as the government hospitals. The mandate involves structural procedure from the moment a case of snakebite is reported, including the in-patient, out-patient record, data accumulation for improving policy decisions, preventive measures, or even the instances of death due to snake attacks. 

The decision is being hailed as a pivotal first stride to prevent or minimise snake bite incidents, all the while encouraging other states to follow the suit. Eventually, the measure could help enhance the snakebite management programme in India.

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The announcement was welcomed across quarters including from the Humane Society International (HSI) India that commended government’s surveillance and preventive measures. The HSI has been involved in a radio telemetry project to study the behaviour of one of the most venomous species of snakes, the Russell’s vipers, that accounts for the highest figures in the rural parts of Hunsur taluk in Mysuru district of India.

As many as 22 Russell’s vipers were found breeding in the agricultural landscape of Hunsur in a project that was collaborated with animal protection organisation, and Liana Trust, an NGO engaged in conservation.

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“By mandating reporting of this disease, the Karnataka government has ensured that data on a larger volume of snakebite cases will be captured to begin with,” Shubhra Sotie, wildlife research and policy specialist at HIS/India said in a statement. "This, coupled with other interventions, will go a long way in meaningfully addressing snakebites, reducing the animosity that exists between humans and snakes, eventually leading to fewer mortality in both,” she added.

Karnataka sets precedent for other states to follow

Working towards the snakebite prevention programme, Sumanth Bindumadhav, Director of Wildlife Protection at the Humane Society International/India, also hailed Karnataka for its pivotal stride in tackling the longstanding issue. “At the very least, all healthcare facilities are now mandated to report snakebite cases, which they weren’t previously,” he told South First

A popular cardiologist from ICMR’s task force of Kerala, who conducted multiple studies and authored published research papers on snakebites, Dr Jaideep C Menon, also backed Karnataka’s decision to declare snakebite as notifiable disease. He acknowledged the collective efforts of the various groups and officials who made the reform deviating from the norm a possibility as notifiable diseases are typically determined at national rather than state level. “Karnataka’s action is a pivotal first step, setting a precedent for other states to follow. This is a very welcome first step,” Dr Menon told South First.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled a Regional Action Plan for preventing the snakebite envenoming in Southeast Asia. The global health agency aimed to halve the snake bite related fatalities and disabilities by 2030. A member of the WHO review committee on the regional action plan, Prof Denny John, hailed India’s Karnataka for mandating the state to notify the cases of snakebites as a tropical disease.

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Published February 21st, 2024 at 13:34 IST