A Serpentine Quest

The long struggle to end snakebite deaths in India

01 November 2019
The World Health Organisation estimates that 2.8 million Indians are bitten by snakes every year.
arun sankar / afp / getty images
The World Health Organisation estimates that 2.8 million Indians are bitten by snakes every year.
arun sankar / afp / getty images

In 1969, in the small village of Umbraj, in the Junnar taluka of Pune district, an eight-year-old boy, who could not yet comprehend the idea of death, stood dumbstruck at the sight of people wailing over a woman who had just died of a snakebite. It was his first brush with snakebites, a menace that kills thousands of people in India every year. This early encounter would foreshadow the course of his life.

The boy, Sadanand Raut, grew up to become a doctor. In 1992, he established a small dispensary and clinic in Junnar. One day in 1994, Raut was informed that the eight-year-old daughter of a farm labourer had been bitten by a viper in the nearby town of Narayangaon. She was rushed to his clinic, but it was too late. Almost twenty minutes of the “golden hour”—the first sixty minutes after a snakebite, during which treatment is most likely to be successful—had passed, and the girl could not be saved.

“I was haunted by that incident,” Raut told me. “I felt, as a doctor, with all my education and knowledge, if I could not save that poor girl, what use was my education?” The girl’s death spurred him to “do something concrete for the snakebite victims and save them.”

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    Vikas Prakash Joshi is a communications officer with the Watershed Organisation Trust, a Pune-based nonprofit.

    Keywords: health policy World Health Organisation primary health centres
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