– Snakes are loved, they are feared, they are worshiped. So it’s a very complicated relationship. (dynamic music) The World Health Organization has declared the snakebite as a
neglected tropical disease. – Snakebite is really serious in India. It results in the deaths of at least 50,000 people every year. And hundreds of thousands of other people are permanently disabled from snakebite. – We all have to come together to be able to solve this problem. It’s not just a problem
of conservationists, or doctors, it’s a problem of the society. – We’ve gotta do something about it, that’s our responsibility. (upbeat music) My name is Romulus Whitaker. We’re sitting here at the
Madras Crocodile Bank. And, although it is a crocodile bank, we do keep all sorts of reptiles. And we study and work with
all sorts of reptiles. And in recent years we’ve concentrated on the issue of snakebite. (speaking foreign language) Oh boy, she’s asking me if
I’ve been bitten by a snake. Ah, yes. I was bitten about six times by snakes while I was catching them. But when I caught them I
didn’t catch it nicely, I made a mistake, so it bit me. I’ve always tried to tell people, look, most snakes are not venomous. Snakes are not out to get you. Snakebites are accidents,
which can be avoided. And starting to try to teach people these kind of things,
it’s a real uphill task. – Most people bitten by snakes
are agricultural workers, farm laborers, firewood collectors. You know, people working
with their hands and legs in places where snakes are prevalent. Most people work barefoot or, you know, without protective equipment
like gloves or gumboots. People often don’t use flashlights when walking around at night. People are set in their
ways and if that means getting bitten by a snake while doing whatever it is, then so be it. That’s kind of the attitude
that a lot of people have. (grass crunching) (calm music) – I heard about this lady called Shanti. She was bitten by a cobra and she was lucky enough to survive. If we can convince her
to wear the gumboots, she will be our spokesperson. (speaking foreign language) She’s saying that it’s
going to be difficult for her to be wearing that
while working in the field. If there is a lady walking
in the village with gumboots, you know, it’s like a
conversation starter. Why is this lady wearing gumboots? And then she would say, it’s to protect myself from snakebite. So even if somebody else
is not wearing gumboots, the thought of snakebite is always there. That’s one of the biggest
problems of snakebite. To me, we have kind of
accepted it as a fact, we don’t take it seriously. I think we have to kind
of shake the conscience of the country, and I
think that’s a way to go. – In village India, if you’re sick you go to a local healer. And the problem is that
snakebite is a real medical emergency, you’ve
got to get anti-venom. You’ve got to get the one thing that’ll counteract the effects of the venom, that’ll neutralize the venom. (dynamic music) – Here at the Irula Snake Catchers Industrial Co-operative Society on the premises of the
Madras Crocodile Bank. This is one of the
largest producers of venom in the country and they
supply most of the venom needs for the manufacture of
anti-venom in India. – Do not try any other
treatment for snakebite. There is only one treatment,
and that’s called anti-venom. Find out where the nearest
source of anti-venom is, and get it as fast as you can. One of the things we do insist on that communities find out if their local primary health center or their
local hospital or clinic, whether it’s a private
or government hospital, has anti-venom. (calm music) – So these are the different survey sheets that I have, for now. And we are going to fill the
snakebite hospital sheet. Does the hospital have anti-snake venom? – Yes, yes, yes it does. – Has the hospital treated
snakebite in the past? – Yes. People must recognize
that this is a problem that is resulting in a very
large numbers of death. One of the most important reasons why snakebite has not received
a lot of attention is because there is a dearth of research, both concerning the
magnitude of the problem, as well as concerning the quality
of care that is available. – There is a lack of
data that I don’t think anybody disputes that, in fact the figures that we keep saying, that
50,000 people are dying is from a dataset from 2005. That’s the most reliable
set of data that we have. If we have the figures wrong, that 50,000 people are
dying, it’s an underestimate. If it’s wrong, it’s definitely higher. Resources are very limited. And we need to be able to invest our resources very efficiently. (upbeat music) Open Data Kit helps a lot in this. So, for example, when we
are collecting the data from victims, which species
has bitten them, for example. – We started to get so much data in, which of the hospitals that
can actually treat snakebite, where is anti-venom available, where are the doctors available
who specialize in snakebite. – We want to be able to give a system where people can find the correct hospital without wasting any time. This is how the data looks now. So there are three layers of data. The ones with the snake icon is the occurrence of venomous snakes. The ones with the plus icon is the hospitals that treat snakebite. And then there is this icon, which shows the victim’s history. We can distribute this to other people. The network of over 400 rescuers. – And they can start using it immediately. – They can start using it. This data that is being collected will be a key player in solving
this problem of snakebite. (dynamic music) How many of you are scared of snakes? (laughing) I think that nobody in India should die of snakebites in the 21st century. I think it is something
worth striving for. I think it is possible
if we all work together. – We have to understand
we are living with snakes. So the best way to do it
is identifying snakes, avoiding them, and then
learn what to do if bitten. – Snakes have been living around people for the longest time. People kill a lot of snakes, snakes kill quite a few people, as well. So it’s never been a peaceful
sort of co-existence thus far. But a better understanding of snakes and, you know, the value
they add to the ecosystem. All of this coupled with self-awareness. These are ways that people can live side-by-side with snakes.