Over 100,000 people die each year as a result of snake bites, but access to antivenom is often a challenging task thanks to manufacturers dropping antivenom products from their production line. Abi Millar finds out how this problem is being addressed.
Snake bites are a major public health issue in many parts of the world. It is thought that over five million people are bitten each year, with up to 138,000 losing their lives and many more left permanently disabled.
However, unlike many other problems of a similar magnitude, envenoming has tended to fall under the radar. It wasn’t till recently that the World Health Organization took note, formally classing snake bites as a ‘global health priority’ in May 2018.
“The people who are most affected by snake bites are rural impoverished people of the tropics, especially sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia,” says Dr Nicholas Casewell, a senior lecturer and Wellcome Trust research fellow at the Centre of Snakebite Research and Interventions (CSRI). “Because these are disadvantaged populations, they don’t have much in the way of a political voice. So generally speaking governments and national health agencies do not seem to prioritise snake bites in the way they do many infectious diseases.”
The bitter irony of the situation is that snake bites can be effectively treated, if the patient receives the right medicine at the right time. Deaths from snake bites occur not because we don’t have a solution, but because, more often than not, these solutions aren’t accessible to those who need them.
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