Green Recovery Programme Snake Bite Awareness Campaign
North Central, North Western and Eastern Provinces
Snake bites are not considered to be a ‘disaster’ in the strictest sense, but the bites of venomous snakes is a silent disaster in Sri Lanka, with at least 120 deaths being annually reported in the country. What is of more concern is the rapid increase of snake bites; hospital admission data show that the recorded 6,843 bites in 1988 had increased to 39,693 in 2006, making snake bites a major health threat in rural areas today. As some deaths and bites may go unrecorded, the real gravity of this issue is not known.
The lack of information and awareness on the identification of venomous snakes, the prevention of snake bites and first aid is a major contributory factor to this situation. The clearing of snake habitats is another significant cause. The bites of highly venomous snakes have serious health implications which usually result in permanent damage. The regions mainly affected by this problem are the North Central, North Western and Eastern Provinces; in particular, the farming communities during the harvest season.
Fear, often caused by the lack of knowledge, leads to the killing of all snakes, as many do not realize that only about 5% of all snake species in Sri Lanka are deadly venomous. Even less is known about the important role played by snakes in maintaining ecosystems and preying on disease carrying rodents.
A poster and information campaign targeting hospitals, government offices, schools and public gathering spots was implemented to create awareness on this critical issue, in partnership with American Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Program and Wildlife Conservation Society, Galle. Species identification charts for deadly venomous snakes, and precautionary tips for preventing snake bites, as well as first aid protocols for responding effectively to bites, were also part of this campaign. This information is being disseminated in the form of posters, brochures and booklets produced in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages, which are available on the EFL page.
A number of awareness workshops were held in the most affected areas, targeting medical professionals in hospitals in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Matale, Galle and Matara Districts, and SLRCS staff.
The program was completed successfully in 2011, with the aim of eventually reducing snake bites through awareness workshops, dissemination of materials and a media campaign.
This initiative was a part of the Green Recovery Programme.