COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMMES
CCTC’s community education programmes provide people in PNG with information about the snakes found in their area, plus how to avoid being bitten. Teaching snakebite first aid and dispelling the local myths and misconceptions about snakes and snakebite is vital in rural areas. The incidence of snakebite mortality is high, particularly where access to adequately staffed and equipped medical facilities is gravely limited, and can take hours or even days to reach.
Wherever the snakebite rescue ambulance travels it draws immediate attention and a crowd will inevitably gather wherever it stops. This enables us to provide impromptu educational presentations wherever we go, spontaneously. There is almost always someone in the crowd who has a story to tell about someone in their village whose life was saved by a trip in our ambulance, and/or by following the first aid protocols that we teach.
Several times a year we embark on excursions to several health centres and multiple villages. These trips can last up to a week, involve camping-out and require a considerable degree of planning and financing. Whilst delivering our services (including posters and leaflets) we are also able to collect valuable information and data from the health centres and the locals about snakes and snakebite in their vicinity.
HARSH REALITIES OF RURAL LIFE IN PNG
Rural life in PNG is still quite primitive. People are largely self-sufficient, relying on hunting, fishing and gardening to produce their own food, and sourcing their building materials and most other necessities from the surrounding bush. Encounters with venomous snakes are common, and most people have both a healthy fear of snakes, and the consequences of snakebites. There are areas of PNG where the incidence of snakebite is among the highest reported anywhere in the world, and given that health facilities are often poorly equipped, inadequately staffed and generally lack reliable access to life-saving antivenoms, the consequences of a snakebite can be catastrophic.
Many people live in poverty, and walking barefoot is the norm. This increases the vulnerability to snakebite. Footwear is rarely worn and is limited almost exclusively to thongs. We see the occasional pair of trainers but work boots and gumboots are a novelty. Unfortunately, gum boots particularly children’s sizes are not readily available in rural areas and are often too expensive for the average family to afford even one pair. Ironically, the most effective way to prevent snakebite in PNG is to wear gumboots, which could prevent around 80% of bites by protecting the foot, ankle and lower legs.
Many local people fail to make the connection between wearing gumboots and preventing snakebite, and for this reason education programmes are very important and are well received when we conduct them. Sourcing gumboots for everyone remains an unsolved problem but convincing people to save up and invest in them and also share them wherever possible is at least a start.
PREVENTION IS THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE IF THERE IS NO CURE
The cold, harsh reality in many parts of PNG is that access to life-saving antivenoms, or to modern intensive care medicine facilities capable of supporting life, is non-existent. Health infrastructure has crumbled in many communities, and a snakebite can be a death sentence. Yet despite their fear of snakebite, many people are unaware that there are chronic antivenom shortages or that their rural health centres are grossly ill-equipped to either treat snakebite patients themselves, or safely transport them to a more suitable facility, and that this puts patients’ lives at serious risk. These circumstances make it all the more important to promote snakebite prevention strategies.
Our community education programmes are therefore structured to cover general information about local snakes, right and wrong first aid techniques, and useful pointers about additional prevention approaches, such as:
- Using a flash light at night to avoid stepping on a snake in the dark;
- Keeping areas around homes and villages clear of rubbish to discourage pests such as rats and mice (that will attract hungry snakes) from infesting these place;
- Cutting the grass on either side of narrow bush paths so that people can see snakes before they step near them;
- Learning to look for snakes before lifting things off the ground (e.g.: firewood, garden rubbish, building materials, etc) that snakes may be concealed under;
- The importance of educating children about snakes, and what to do if they encounter one, as early in their lives as possible.
Education is key to protecting the most vulnerable members of the rural community by providing the knowledge and skills required for them to change their mindset and begin tackling snakebite themselves at ground level, taking responsibility for their actions in order to reduce snakebite related morbidity and mortality.
To learn more about preventing snakebites, being “Snake-Safe”, and about our “Boots, Bandage and Buddy” programme, visit our Resources page. You can also download free posters and other information.