India loses an average of 58,000 people to snakebites every year, and over the last two decades, about 1.2 million people have been killed by snakebites – almost half of all such deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. Most of the victims were from rural areas, where either medical facilities were not on hand to render immediate treatment or the victims could not comprehend that they had been bitten by poisonous snakes.
International experts, who collected the data from India for the “Million Death Study”, found that half of these deaths occurred during monsoon season, when snakes come out in the open. Most of the victims were bitten while farming.
The study also found that 70 percent of India's snakebite deaths occurred in nine states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Another reason for India's high snakebite death toll is the alleged ineffectiveness of commercially-available anti-venoms. A recent study by the premier Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru revealed that manufacturing protocols for producing anti-venom have remained unchanged for over a century in India.
In India, anti-venom is produced for only four snakes – Cobras, the Common Krait, Russell’s Viper and the Saw-scaled Viper, and might not be effective for several other poisonous species of snakes found in the country. About 60 species of snakes found in India are capable of inflicting life-threatening bites.
According to the treatment protocol of the federal Health Ministry, antivenin should be available in primary health centres – the lowest rung of India's three-tier healthcare system. But most of the primary health centres do not have antivenin, according to government officials, which is another reason for the higher number of deaths occur in rural areas.