A member of the Irula tribe holding a cobra. The tribe members catch snakes to extract and sell the snake venom.
Photo: Yves Soulabaille/LookatSciences/laif


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Snakebites are a crucial, yet underreported issue in many South Asian countries. In India, they kill some 50,000 people every year. However, the government has neglected the issue. Now, it’s time to seriously address this all but forgotten public health problem, our author maintains.

TN Muthusamy sits on a stack of rice sacks at his home in Thayirpalayam, a village near Erode town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The sacks that he is sitting on are, however, not produced from his own farm. “I was growing paddy, corn and sesame on my farm for 15-20 years, until I was bitten by a poisonous snake in 2012. After the bite, I could no longer work in the fields,” Muthusamy says.

According to the Million Deaths Study (MDS), headed by the Registrar General and the Centre for Global Health Research, snakebites claim the lives of 45,000–50,000 people in India every year. However, this figure is debatable as most snakebites are unreported, with no official records. Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, a scientist at the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research, University of Reading, United Kingdom, who published a paper titled ‘Snakebite and its Socio-Economic Impact on the Rural Population of Tamil Nadu, India’, believes that these numbers could be higher.

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