According to available data, India accounts for almost half the total number of annual deaths by snakebite in the world. Authors of the article – ‘Trends in snakebite mortality in India from 2000 to 2019 in a nationally representative mortality study’ estimated that India had 1.2 million snakebite deaths (representing an average of 58,000 per year) from 2000 to 2019 with nearly half of the victims aged 30-69 and over a quarter being children under 15. People living in densely populated low altitude agricultural areas in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, suffered 70% of deaths during the period 2001-2014, particularly during the rainy season when encounters between snakes and humans are more frequent at home and outdoors. Russell’s viper, kraits, and cobras are the most dangerous biting snake species in the country.
Against this backdrop, the phenomenal contribution of Priyanka Kadam, the President and Founder of Snakebite Healing and Education (SHE) Society, deserves special mention. Kadam helps those who suffer snakebite with medical support. Kadam has worked in the regulatory compliance space in the finance sector for almost 28 years, before launching her society. She has worked extensively in the domains of Combating Financial Terrorism, Anti-Money Laundering, Financial Frauds, Anti-Human Trafficking, and Data Privacy regulations.
The Optimist got in touch with her for an interview to know more about her unique endeavour.
An excerpt –
Q1. How did you come up with the idea?
In 2011, I attended a workshop conducted by Romulus Whitaker, the ‘snake man of India’, where he shared the ‘Million Snakebite Study Report’ data. As per that report, more than fifty thousand people die due to venomous snakebite each year. Many also suffer from some kind of disability due to a venomous snakebite. Around the same time, I was contemplating working on a human rights cause to help the underprivileged people of our country. Snakebite is a treatable condition, yet such a large number of people die due to lack of access to healthcare. Moreover, the people from the agrarian and industrial sectors are the most exposed to snakebites. Sadly, there are very few people working in this domain. So I thought of dedicating my time, money, and effort to bring about meaningful changes in this area.
2. How many years have you been in this field?
I have been working on snakebite prevention and mitigation for the last decade with various groups and started She-India as an unregistered entity in 2014. We registered the initiative as a Trust in 2017
3. Does SHE only operate in Maharashtra, Mumbai? If yes why not other states?
Snakebite Healing and Education Society (She-India) is a national-level civil society and has worked in 12 states of India and collaborated with Government & Non-Government entities in 24 states across the country.
4. Snakebite doesn’t receive a lot of attention because it mainly happens to the farmers and their families in the rural area. What is your take on this?
Snakebite afflicts the poor. It has been declared by WHO as the most neglected tropical disease. There is definitely a need to create awareness amongst people in decision-making positions at the central and state-level Ministries. We have produced an award-winning advocacy film “The Dead Don’t Talk” that highlights the pain and challenges of snakebite victim and their families. This film has emerged as a powerful influencer, nationally and internationally. However, there is a need for much more concerted efforts than is being done right now.
5. Snakebites in India are particularly common during the rainy seasons. How does SHE spread awareness to prevent snakebite incidents?
She-India has created short snakebite prevention and first-aid videos which are dubbed in 12 regional languages namely Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, Odia, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Santhali. We have also created a separate awareness video for the Northeast states of India as the venomous snake distribution there is different from the rest of India. The awareness materials are uploaded on YouTube under our channel Snakebite Healing and Education Society. We also have illustrative posters and banners of Snakebite Do’s and Don’ts in multiple regional languages that can be requested by sending us an email.
6. Till date how many lives have got saved with the help of SHE?
The kind of work that She-India does is both strategic and grass-root level. Apart from producing educational materials for communities, She-India also does capacity building of doctors by conducting training on clinical management of snakebites in many states. We curate a Snakebite Interest WhatsApp group of doctors along with Dr. Dayal Bandhu Majumdar, a snakebite expert doctor from West Bengal. This group has approximately 240 doctors from 16 states of India and through this initiative, we have managed to save thousands of lives since July 2015. Our working model, though impactful, is difficult to assess the exact number of people we have saved through our various collaborations and projects.
7. How does the funding process work in SHE?
There is a need to recognize the burden that India faces due to snakebites and address it incrementally at all levels. Snakebite is a lesser-known cause and there is negligible funding for Community Engagement & Advocacy to prevent snakebites. As an organization, we struggle to fund our on-ground projects. We, therefore, try to work on ideas to do impactful work with little resources.
8. Share a story with us that you think is worth sharing and alert people from snakebites.
I would like to share two stories.
On 18th April, at around 2 am, I got a call from an unknown number. It was a snakebite emergency case from Banachi Wadi in Shahapur Taluka of Thane in Maharashtra. The 38 yr-old Devram Cokla was tending to his vegetable patch in the evening when he was bitten by Russell’s viper. His son-in-Law, Janardhan Bhagat was not able to secure a hospital bed. He was given my number by a snake rescuer named Shrikant Kore. The government hospital in Shivaji Nagar, Kalwa was referring the patient to Sion Hospital without stabilizing him. The patient was hemorrhaging (blood oozing from the mouth) as Snakebite had occurred almost 6.5 hours ago. Shivaji Nagar Govt hospital had no ICU bed. We tried to reach Sion hospital’s landline numbers. Both were unresponsive. In desperation, we called the Mumbai Police control room and asked them to share the number of police personnel posted at Sion Hospital. Samadhan Ramnath Sanap posted at the hospital helped me speak to the Medical officer on duty who assured me help when the patient arrives. Devram was brought in an ambulance to Sion hospital in the middle of the night. A policeman named ‘Sanap’ ensured that the patient got a bed in the ICU where he is currently recuperating. The timely intervention was the key to saving Devram’s life.
The second story is about a senior executive, Satish Barapatre living in Gurgaon who was bitten by the highly venomous Common Krait snake inside his house. Satish was admitted to a private hospital. He suffered further complications as he turned out to be COVID positive. He succumbed after 10 days of being hospitalized.
Snakebite is not just a rural problem. In this particular case, the family had a beautiful garden with more than 500 flower pots that provided shelter to rodents and snakes alike. One must be alert and have netted doors and windows, trim tree branches that are close to roofs and windows, all drainage pipes should have metal or plastic mesh covers, the immediate area outside the door should be clean and clutter-free. One should use a torch at night, wear a closed pair of shoes, use well-tucked mosquito nets, well-lit pathways, and bathrooms and be careful with your hands and feet.
9. What is your mission and vision?
The WHO strategy to prevent deaths and disabilities worldwide was published in 2019. As per the guidelines, one of the key pillars to preventing death and disability due to snakebite is community engagement and advocacy. This is an area of our expertise and through our efforts we would like to bring about policy changes at a strategic level to strengthen the health system across the country.
We also work at the grass-root level to create awareness amongst people living and working close to the soil. The vision and mission are to campaign for a change in the way we live and react to snakebites. Awareness is the key. We plan to help people to be informed and stay alert and work towards bringing down the death and disability numbers by fifty percent in the next 10 years.