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No snakebite serum, farm labourer dies

Burdwan, Aug. 3: A farm labourer in Burdwan died of snakebite a day after being bitten as hospitals and medicine shops failed to provide anti-venom serum and his “poor” family couldn’t afford to take him to Calcutta.

Kush Shar, 24, who stayed in Khandagosh, was bitten by a krait on Wednesday night at his home and died yesterday after the ojha (witch doctor), to whom the family had taken him after knocking doors of several hospitals, also failed to revive his condition.

Doctors at the Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, where at least 8-10 persons come daily after being bitten by snakes, said they did not have anti-venom vials and said Kush should be sent to SSKM in Calcutta.

“After he turned blue, neighbours and I took my brother to the health centre at Khandaghosh, where the doctor asked us to immediately shift him to Burdwan Medical College and Hospital. By the time we could take him there, it was at 7.30am. A doctor at the hospital advised that he should be administered saline. Then he told us that the hospital did not have stock of anti-venom serum and wrote out a prescription asking us to get the vial from outside,” said Sanjay, the brother of Kush and also a farm labourer.

The villagers said they scurried for the serum in at least half a dozen shops but to no avail. “When we informed the doctor at the medical college hospital, he pleaded helplessness and referred my brother to SSKM Hospital in Calcutta,” Sanjay said.

Asked why they took Kush to an ojha and not Calcutta, Sanjay said the family with its monthly income of Rs 3,000 couldn’t afford to take him to SSKM for treatment.

“We are poor and couldn’t have made arrangement to take my brother to Calcutta. I also hesitated because I have only been to the city once or twice to attend political meetings. So, I decided to take my brother back to the village,” he said.

The ojha to whom Kush was taken as a “last-ditch effort” said it was beyond him to revive the farm labourer.

“This time, I took him to another health centre in Bankura’s Indas which is about 6km from our village. The doctor there referred my brother to the Bankura Sammilani Medical College and Hospital but by then he had stopped breathing,” Sanjay said.

Hospital authorities and the medicine shops in Burdwan said supplies of anti-venom vials had come down in the last week. Burdwan hospital superintendent A.B. Samanta said there was a severe shortage of anti-venom serum in the medical college for the past 10 days.

Vice-president of Burdwan zone of Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association, Vivekananda Roy, said: “Demand has gone up over the past few years, possibly because more and more people in the villages are becoming aware about the serum.”