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When Snakebite Treatment Costs A Fortune!

This incident happened in June 2016 in Arasampatty village situated in Pochampalli Taluk, Krishnagiri District, Tamil Nadu state.  A V Kannan is a 64 year-old coconut farm owner. His farm of about 10 acres of palm trees is his main source of livelihood.

This farm has a good population of Russell’s vipers and Spectacled cobras   thanks  to the abundance  of trees, bushy shrubs and leaf litter, a good rodent and frog population and water that is used for irrigation.  It was around 5 pm.  As usual, Kannan was inspecting his farm on that fateful evening and didn’t notice the Russell’s viper which was resting near where he stood.  He stepped on it unknowingly and sustained a bite on his lower right leg.

 His family and friends rushed him to a private hospital in Krishnagiri within 90 minutes of the bite.  His life was saved but the bite wound festered.  He was discharged from the hospital after 20 days and was instructed to come every second day for wound management.  Due to further secondary level infection, he was asked to get admitted again for a fasciotomy and this time he stayed in the hospital for 15 days.  It took almost 3 months for the wound to fully heal.

The total cost of treatment came to Rs 7 lakhs. This, after he received a healthy discount from the private hospital due to his social connections and cordial relations with the management.

More than 50,000 people die annually from snakebites in India and five times that number suffer snakebite related morbidity which results in disabilities, loss of livelihood and financial stress. These victims of snakebite come from the most impoverished backgrounds. They struggle to receive treatment in government hospitals as many primary health centres are not equipped to treat snakebites.  While district hospitals have the infrastructure to treat snakebites, the large number of referrals from block hospitals creates a bottle neck. Snakebite envenoming is a medical emergency and needs ICU support.  Many times during the peak bite season (monsoons), patients are turned away and referred to other hospitals when an ICU bed is not available.

The author visited the Krishnagiri District hospital to understand how snakebite treatment was managed there. There were no patients admitted there perhaps as it was the month of December –  a period when lesser number of snake bites are reported. However, the author did meet snakebite victims in a private hospital that was about a 10 minute drive from the District hospital.

A V Kannan, whose case we have described, is from an affluent village family and hence he was able to receive the necessary treatment in a private hospital.

Written by Priyanka Kadam, ©December, 2019

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