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Snakebite campaign saves lives in India

A snakebite awareness campaign led by a British scientist is helping to save lives in South India.

Dr Sakthi Vaiyapuri, who works at the University of Reading, has teamed up with communities in rural Tamil Nadu in India to provide life-saving advice to more than 3 million local residents.

The World Health Organisation says that snakebites are a high-profile neglected health issue. Around 5 million people are bitten by snakes every year, killing more than 140,000 and permanently disabling half a million others.

Dr Vaiyapuri says that the high deaths toll is a result of poor public awareness about snakes and snakebites, and the kind of treatment needed.

According to the research team, one of the aims of the campaign was encouraging local communities to seek professional healthcare at the nearest hospital, rather than an often more traditional approach in rural areas, which uses plant extracts from traditional healers as a treatment for snakebites.

The campaign has been hailed a success by healthcare workers in the region. According to a local hospital, Tamil Nadu has seen the number of people seeking medical treatment for snakebites within the crucial first four hours increase from 60% to 95%.

Dr Sakthi Vaiyapuri, Associate Professor in Cardiovascular & Venom Pharmacology at the University of Reading, said:

We were delighted that the campaign was able to have a significant positive effect for the rural communities around Tamil Nadu that we worked with. The four-hour window is extremely important for someone to get effective treatment after being bitten by a venomous snake. Timely access to healthcare will save lives.

Despite reaching 3 million residents in India, the campaign has only cost £25,000 to deliver, using a mixed media approach including print and online media, and social media posts.

Dr Vaiyapuri now hopes the success of the initiative could encourage funding for a nationwide campaign across rural India and elsewhere globally following the same model. The findings of the research project were published last month.

Photo by Domenico Bertazzo from Pexels

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