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Snakebites caused over 63,000 deaths in 2019

A recent study led by a team of scientists from the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, has found that over 63,000 people died from snakebites in 2019, largely due to lack of proper antidotes in rural areas. The vast majority of these deaths was in India (51,000), with only two deaths being recorded in Australia. These findings suggest that World Health Organization’s target to halve snakebite deaths by 2030 will most likely not be met.

“Interventions to ensure faster antivenom delivery must be combined with preventive strategies such as increased education and strengthening of the rural health system,” said study lead author Richard Franklin, a professor of Public Health at James Cook University.

“Ensuring timely antivenom access across rural areas of the world would save thousands of lives, and greater investment in devising and scaling up these interventions should be prioritized to meet WHO targets for snakebite envenoming and neglected tropical diseases.” 

By collecting autopsy and vital record data from the Global Burden of Disease datasets, the scientists modeled the proportion of deaths caused by snakes by location, age, sex, and year. The analysis revealed that the majority of deaths from snakebites occurred in South Asia, particularly in countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In India, the deathrate caused by snakes was estimated to be a staggering four per 100,000 people – significantly higher than the global average of 0.8. The sub-Saharan Africa region came second, with Nigeria having the largest number of deaths (1,460).

According to Professor Franklin, the likelihood of death from a venomous snake bite increases substantially if antivenom medicine is not administered within six hours after the bite. “However, in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, many seek traditional healers or attend clinics with inadequate training on how to treat snakebites, or lack antivenom to administer life-saving treatment,” he explained. “People who reach hospital often have inadequate access to dialysis, ventilators, and blood transfusions, which are essential to manage the complications of poisoning.”

Unfortunately, the researchers predict that the number of snakebite deaths is expected to rise to over 68,000 by 2050, mostly due to population increases. “We predict that mortality will continue to decline, but not sufficiently to meet WHO targets. Improved data collection should be prioritized to help target interventions, improve burden estimation and monitor progress,” the scientists concluded.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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