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Snakebites in India | Top 8 steps taken by India

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Snakebites in India: In our discussion, we’ll delve into the status of snakebite in India, where it poses the highest burden of snakebite-related deaths and disabilities globally, disproportionately impacting rural communities and marginalized populations. Additionally, we’ll explore the pioneering research conducted at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) on a synthetic antibody aimed at addressing this pressing public health concern. We’ll also analyze the significance of the results obtained from the IISc’s research, the challenges faced in combating snakebites, and the proactive steps taken by India to mitigate this issue.

Understanding this topic is crucial for UPSC aspirants, as it covers a critical aspect of public health in India and aids in preparing for related questions in the examination. You can also click the link for your UPSC preparation, where free resources are available that will be beneficial to you.

Why in the news?

The recent development of a synthetic human antibody by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to neutralize a lethal snakebite toxin has garnered significant attention. This innovative research holds promise for revolutionizing snakebite treatment, offering potential benefits in terms of safety, effectiveness, and accessibility.

Status of Snakebites in India

Snakebites pose a major public health concern in India, a country with a diverse population of venomous snake species.  Over half of all global snakebite deaths occur in India, translating to an average of 58,000 fatalities annually. A large-scale study conducted in 2020 identified eight states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, undivided Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana), Rajasthan, and Gujarat – as bearing the highest burden of snakebite deaths, accounting for over 70% of such fatalities between 2001 and 2014.  The probability of an Indian citizen dying from a snakebite is roughly 1 in 250.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 90% of snakebite in India are caused by the “Big Four”: the common krait, Indian cobra, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper. Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, WHO declared snakebite envenoming a neglected tropical disease (NTD) in 2017 and set a target in 2019 to halve the global snakebite burden by 2030. Achieving this global target hinges heavily on improved snakebite management in India, considering the country’s significant contribution to the global burden.

IISc Scientists Create Synthetic Antibody to Neutralize Venomous Snake Toxins

Researchers at the IISc, Bangalore, have developed a synthetic antibody that successfully neutralizes the toxin of the Indian cobra, one of the “Big Four” snakes responsible for most snakebite fatalities in the country.  Unlike the traditional antivenom derived from horse serum, this synthetic antibody avoids the drawbacks of serum sickness and allergic reactions. This innovation holds the promise of safer, more effective, and potentially more accessible snakebite treatment.

Significance of the IISC Research | Antivenom India

  • Safer and more effective treatment: Synthetic antibodies could eliminate the risks of adverse reactions often associated with conventional antivenom therapy.
  • Potential for broader applications: This technology opens possibilities in developing similar antibody solutions for other venomous snakes found in India.
  • Scalability and affordability: If successfully developed for mass production, synthetic antibodies could potentially offer wider accessibility to effective treatment, especially in resource-limited rural regions.

Steps Taken by India to Address Snakebite

  1. In 2021, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare introduced the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Snakebites. This initiative aims to halve the number of deaths and disabilities caused by snakebites by the year 2030.
  2. In 2022, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) formed a task force to conduct a thorough investigation into the occurrence, treatment, and socio-economic effects of snakebites in India.
  3. The ICMR conducted a nationwide survey across 14 states, which collectively account for 90% of snakebite cases in the country. The survey’s objective is to gather accurate data on the prevalence and distribution of snakebites, the availability and efficacy of antivenoms, and the existing challenges within the healthcare system.
  4. Despite being effective against the “Big Four” snakes, the Indian Polyvalent Antivenom does not provide protection against other venomous species like the hump-nosed pit viper, king cobra, and sea snakes, resulting in numerous illnesses and fatalities.
  5. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have developed a synthetic antivenom made from human-derived antibodies. This antivenom targets neurotoxins present in elapid snakes such as cobras and mambas. It offers broad-spectrum protection by neutralizing 99 variants of the toxin found in various elapid snakes worldwide.
  6. Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) are pivotal in educating communities about snake identification, providing initial first aid, and encouraging prompt medical intervention, thereby playing a crucial role in snakebite prevention and management.
  7. Each state appoints Nodal Officers responsible for overseeing and coordinating the implementation of the national snakebite prevention and control program.
  8. In 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MOEFCC) issued guidelines addressing human-wildlife conflict, including snake encounters. These guidelines establish standardized procedures for preventing, mitigating, and compensating for snakebite incidents.

Do & Don’ts: Snakebites

Challenges in Addressing Snakebites

  • Lack of Standardization: The Central Drug Standards and Control Organisation (CDSCO) lacks a prescribed potency standard for antivenom, impacting quality control.
  • Cultural Beliefs: Misconceptions surrounding snakebites may lead people to seek traditional remedies, delaying proper medical intervention.
  • Limited Insurance Coverage: Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) only covers snakebite cases requiring ventilator support, which constitute less than 10% of the total.
  • Venomous Snake Diversity: India’s vast array of venomous snakes (around 52 out of 300) with diverse venoms poses a challenge in antivenom production.
  • Regulatory Delays: Anti-snake venom manufacturers face hurdles due to the required series of forest department permissions.
  • Lack of Awareness: Insufficient education and awareness about snakebite first aid and proper medical care lead to delayed treatment.


Despite significant challenges, India’s fight against snakebite envenoming shows promise. Advancements like the IISc’s synthetic antibody and national prevention programs offer hope. Continued efforts in awareness, research, and collaboration are crucial to save lives and build a safer future for both people and snakes.

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Source: The Hindu | Indian Express | Hindustan Times


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