In a country where supply never quite meets the demand, the unavailability of anti-venom in much of Rawalpindi seems almost inevitable. The Basic health centres (BHC) in rural areas of Rawalpindi are ill-equipped to treat patients with snakebites. Ironically, the facility is available in city hospitals where the fewest cases of snakebites are reported.
Talking to The Express Tribune, doctors and staff from various BHCs expressed concern over unavailability of anti-snake venom (ACV) vaccine at health centres, especially during the monsoon season, when the number of snakebite cases increase significantly.
They said that 98 BHCs in rural areas of Rawalpindi, eight rural health centres (RHCs) and six Tehsil headquarter hospitals (THQs) in Murree, Kahota, Kotli Sattian, Taxila, Gujar Khan and Kallar Syedan are without ASV vaccines. They said that the vaccine is only provided to THQs, which are usually poorly stocked.
The doctors said that the vaccine should be available at BHCs to ensure the safety of the victim before they are taken to city hospitals, adding that it would prove fatal if the vaccine is not administered on time.
They said that the ASV vaccine is included in the list of essential medicines by World Health Organization (WHO), and the facility should be part of any primary healthcare centre.
According to medical practitioners, the AVS vaccine is the only available treatment against snakebites. Illustrating the effects of snake venom on a person, they said it causes muscle necrosis and local tissue damage, abnormal blood clotting and bleeding, shock and hypotension, renal toxicity, while the neurotoxicity sometimes leads to paralysis of respiratory muscles, requiring assisted ventilation.
When contacted, District Health Officer (DHO) Dr Khalid Randhawa claimed there is no shortage of the ASV vaccine with public health department as the provincial government has provided enough of the vaccine to last for over a year. However, he admitted that the vaccine was not provided to BHCs, but RHCs and THQs in Rawalpindi are sufficiently stocked.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.
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