Monday February 26, 2018

Australian Scientists hope to reduce Myanmar’s high death toll from Snake bites in Rural Communities

The official toll from snake bites in Myanmar is 600 deaths a year out of some 13,000 cases among a rural population dependent on rice harvesting

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FILE - A snake charmer walks with pythons on his shoulder to attract tourists in Amarapura, Mandalay region, Myanmar, Jan. 2, 2016. Mandalay alone registers an estimated 700 to 800 snake bite victims each year. VOA
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Bangkok, March 19, 2017: Australian scientists, working with counterparts in Myanmar, are hoping to reduce Myanmar’s high death toll from snake bites in rural communities, especially among vulnerable populations facing inadequate emergency care.

The official toll from snake bites in Myanmar is 600 deaths a year out of some 13,000 cases among a rural population dependent on rice harvesting for a living. But rice paddy fields and rice stacks lure rats and mice, and in turn draw snakes, the most venomous being the Russell’s vipers and cobras.

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But the hopes for survival are often challenged by long distances from emergency care, with poor roads and infrastructure between snake bite victims and life-saving medical treatment.

Chen Au Peh, a renal specialist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia, said speedy access to emergency medical treatment is crucial.

“So all these factors accumulate to a long delay between bite and administration of an anti-venom. So to help them, we have to help them produce more anti-venom, to get the anti-venom to where it’s required to help them keep the anti-venom in the refrigerator and to help the health professionals,” Peh said.

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Lifestock also affected

The project has also involved ensuring higher survival rates of horses used in the production of the anti-venom after being injected with snake venom. High mortality rates were evident among the horses due to anemia, nutritional problems and veterinary practices. Changes in practice included learning the skills developed by Myanmar horse handlers.

“In the last 10 months the average horse mortality is something like six or seven per month – compared to 50 per month – and this is very good news not only for horses but for human patients who may need the anti-venom. The more horses that survive the month, the more vials of anti-venom you can produce,” Peh said.

FILE – A Dec. 18, 2015, photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society, shows an 18-inch, one-year-old cobra is shown. Cobras and vipers are among the most venomous snakes in Myanmar.
VOA

As a result, production of anti-venom has risen sharply to 100,000 vials from 60,000 vials.

The team’s work, part of a $1.77 million effort begun in 2014 with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and working with Myanmar’s Ministries of Industry and Health, is focused on the northern city of Mandalay, a region that faces an estimated 700 to 800 snake bite victims each year.

The Australian team, which includes Afzal Mahmood, a senior lecturer in public health at the University of Adelaide and Julian White, a world renowned toxicologist from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, is working with specialists in Myanmar and local partners on guidelines, protocols and standard operating procedures for the health sector.

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Real numbers higher

Mahmood said a recent survey indicated the rate of snake bites was considerably higher than official figures.

“It is not a new phenomenon, it happens because many people do not reach the health system where recording takes place. Some people get treated by the traditional healers; some may die without actually reaching the health system and some may suffer and get healed,” Mahmood told VOA.

But he said the program has succeeded in boosting the skills among the local medical and non-medical community.

“We have produced revised guidelines for the doctors [and] some diagnostic tests, and the training of some 200 health care providers,” he said.

The work has reached about 150 villages with local community meetings targeting around 7,000 people to promote awareness of snake bite treatments.

The goal, the scientists said, is to shorten the time to treatment by providing solar powered refrigerators near to local communities with supplies of anti-venom.

Mahmood says the challenges go beyond the initial treatment.

“Psychological issues post-bite [affect] not only the person but the family themselves suffer. It’s a very life-changing experience,” he said.

Victims of snake bites are among Myanmar’s poorest. They often face long periods of hospitalization, leaving families facing high medical bills, often equivalent to several months of real earnings as they struggle to meet hospital and transport expenses, even those receiving subsidies.

To ensure the project is sustainable, its goal is to provide a model that can be applied elsewhere in Myanmar. (VOA)

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UN: Rohingya Children Face Perpetual Life in Limbo

UNICEF says the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will not return to their homes in Myanmar without guarantees of safety

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Rohingya Children
The report by the U.N. children's fund says that these children face multiple dangers, including the imminent threat of floods, landslides, and waterborne disease outbreaks during the upcoming monsoon and cyclone seasons. VOA

A generation of Rohingya children in Myanmar and Bangladesh will be condemned to a perpetual life in limbo unless coordinated international action is taken to end the violence and discrimination against the Rohingya people, according to the UNICEF report Lives in Limbo.

More than half a million Rohingya refugee children are estimated to have fled to Bangladesh. The report by the U.N. children’s fund says that these children face multiple dangers, including the imminent threat of floods, landslides, and waterborne disease outbreaks during the upcoming monsoon and cyclone seasons, as well as the exploitation and early marriages that arise from living in congested, slumlike conditions.

However, the situation for the estimated 185,000 children who remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is considered even grimmer, according to Simon Ingram, author of the report.

ALSO READ: Crisis of Rohingya: A future lost in darkness of time

Rohingya Children
A Rohingya Muslim child kisses his mother as they rest after having crossed over from Myanmar to the Bangladesh side of the border near Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf area, Sept. 2, 2017. Tens of thousands of others crossed into Bangladesh in a 24-hour span as they fled violence in western Myanmar, the UNHCR said. VOA

He says families there reportedly are living isolated, fearful lives with minimal access to basic services.

“I think, if we are looking for an indicator of the situation on the ground, there is the fact that people are still continuing to come at the rate of something like 1,000 or more a week, crossing into Bangladesh,” Ingram said. “So, I think that that number itself speaks to the situation on the ground — the anxiety, the fear, the continued threat of violence and the hope of those people and those communities.”

UNICEF is urging the Myanmar government to end the violence, to lift restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement in Rakhine state, to provide for their basic needs, and to grant unlimited access to humanitarian agencies.

UNICEF says the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will not return to their homes in Myanmar without guarantees of safety. In the meantime, it says, education offers one of the best opportunities for Rohingya children to achieve a better future. (VOA)