Friday December 14, 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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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)