Shortage of snake anti-venom likely soon; 5 million bitten every year

snakevenomAn major treatment option for victims of snakebite is expected to run out by the middle of this year, even as more than five million people annually are bitten by venomous snakes, a group of WHO member states said on Friday.

An event on the sidelines of the ongoing 69th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva that was co-sponsored by 18 countries, most of them from Africa and the Indian subcontinent, as well as NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said there was an urgent need to highlight the global public health problem by including snakebite deaths as a neglected tropical disease (NTD) on WHO’s priority list.

French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur is to  stop making Fav-Afrique, one of the most effective anti-venoms in the market today. The existing stockpile expires in June this year. The company has cited high manufacturing costs for its decision and tough competition from from producers in India, Brazil and Mexico.

According to the Registrar General’s Million Death Study (MDS) — one of the largest studies on premature mortality in the world — there are 50,000 snakebite deaths per year in India, as against the global figure of 1,25,000 deaths, and more than 75,000 deaths in Asia annually.

“India has the worst snakebite problem in the world,” said David Warrell, professor at Oxford University, and a leading figure on tropical medicine.This was (50,000 annual deaths) 20 times higher than govt of India’s data,” he added.

Key facts

  • Though the exact number of snake bites is unknown an estimated 5 million people are bitten each year with up to 2.5 million poisoning incidents.
  • At least 100 000 people die as a result of snake bites each year, and around three times as many amputations and other permanent disabilities are caused by snakebites annually.
  • Bites by venomous snakes can cause paralysis that may prevent breathing; bleeding disorders that can lead to a fatal haemorrhage; irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and which may result in limb amputation.
  • Agricultural workers and children are the most affected. Children often suffer more severe effects than adults, due to their smaller body mass.

The World Health Organization says that snake bite is a neglected public health issue in many tropical and subtropical countries. About 5 million snake bites occur each year, resulting in up to 2.5 million envenomings (poisoning from snake bites), at least 100 000  deaths and around three times as many amputations and other permanent disabilities. Report on database here.

Most of these occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Africa alone there are an estimated 1 million snake bites annually with about half needing treatment. This type of injury is often found among women, children and farmers in poor rural communities in low- and middle-income countries. It is mainly in countries where health systems are weakest and medical resources sparse.

Bites by venomous snakes can cause acute medical emergencies involving severe paralysis that may prevent breathing; bleeding disorders that can lead to fatal haemorrhage; irreversible kidney failure and severe local tissue destruction that can cause permanent disability and may result in limb amputation. Children suffer more severe effects than adults due to their smaller body mass.

In contrast to many other serious health conditions, a highly effective treatment exists. Most deaths and serious consequences from snake bites are entirely preventable by making antivenom more widely available. Snake antivenoms are the only effective treatment to prevent or reverse most of the venomous effects of snake bites. They are included in the WHO List of Essential Medicines and should be part of any primary health care package where snake bites occur. – CINEWS/WHO

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1 Comment

  1. rajkall@yahoo.com
    May 27, 2016 at 4:59 pm Reply

    Hope there emerges some solution to the problem soon!

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