Snakebite patients in Talloswarad of Baitadi die for lack of treatment

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Manisha Saud, 14, a resident of Kusmaut settlement in Shivanath-1 Rural Municipality, died of a snakebite last Saturday. She was bitten by a snake around 9 a.m. “She died an hour and a half later,” said Bir Bahadur Saud, the victim’s uncle.

Manisha died due to lack of timely treatment.

“We were faced with a dilemma. We didn’t know where to take her because the local health post doesn’t have a snakebite treatment center. If we could have taken her to the hospital immediately, she could have been saved,” said Bir Bahadur.

Kusmaut is a remote village in the Talloswarad region of Baitadi, a mountainous district of Sudurpaschim province in the far west of Nepal. “Our colony is in a remote place. It takes about four hours on foot to reach the nearest road. And it takes about 7-8 hours to drive to the district headquarters or the neighboring district of Dadeldhura. Patients of emergency cases like snakebites die on the way even though they are rushed to hospital,” Bir Bahadur told the Post.

According to him, residents of Talloswarad, which includes the rural municipalities of Shivanath and Pancheshwar, usually travel to Indian towns across the border for treatment. “But we cannot go to India during the rainy season because we have to risk our lives on wooden boats and inner tubes to cross the Mahakali River. There are no bridges over the Mahakali River,” he said.

Many people in the villages of Talloswarad die every year from snakebites due to lack of timely treatment. According to local residents, about 7-8 people die each summer from snakebites in the rural municipalities of Shivanath and Pancheshwar. However, neither local units nor health facilities have data on snakebite deaths here.

Shaman Sarki of Aamchaur in Pancheshwar-4 is still haunted by last year’s incident. He lost his 11-year-old son to a snakebite. “My son died because he couldn’t get treatment. Many people lose their loved ones to snakebite every year. Many lives could be saved if treatment for snakebites were available locally,” Sarki lamented. “Despite the high death toll from snakebites, government authorities and local units are not paying much attention to the problem.”

Several settlements of Shivanath and Pancheshwar lie on the banks of the Mahakali River. Summer in the region is hot, almost like in the Tarai. “Snakes are a great terror during the summer,” said Mohan Bahadur Chand, a resident of Pancheshwar-2. “We are afraid of snakes because we have lost many people to snakebites. Snakebite patients are taken to shamans instead of health facilities because shamans are readily available and doctors are not.

Treatment of snakebite patients is not possible in the whole Baitadi district. Snakebite patients should therefore be taken to Dadeldhura or Dhangadhi. “As treatment is not possible in the district, patients bitten by a snake usually do not go to health facilities. They are trying to find a local remedy but it does not work most of the time,” said Yogesh Prasad Bhatta, head of Baitadi district health office. “Yes, there is a need for a snakebite treatment center in the district, but such a center cannot be established without the support of the provincial and federal governments.”

Incidents of snakebites resulting in fatalities are common in Nepal, but the problem remains grossly overlooked. According to the World Health Organization, some 20,000 people are bitten by snakes in Nepal every year, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths. But health researchers say the actual numbers could be much higher, as several studies suggest.

A total of 90 species of snakes have been recorded in Nepal, of which 17 are considered highly venomous and dangerous.

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