Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Urgent action needed to tackle snakebites in Africa
  • Urgent action needed to tackle snakebites in Africa

Copyright: Kris Pannecoucke / Panos

Speed read

  • Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from about one million snakebites a year

  • Africa’s rural dwellers including farmers, children and women are at higher risk

  • Funding, new technologies and treatments could help tackle the menace

Shares
[NAIROBI] African governments must work harder to prevent and treat the one million snakebites that occur on the continent every year to prevent needless deaths and suffering, a conference has heard.
 
At the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, last month (23-28 May), experts observed that the situation of snakebite victims is dire in Sub-Saharan Africa. The conference heard that snakebites cause about half a million cases of life-threatening venom poisoning on the continent, with few resources available to treat victims.
 

“The recognition of the problem by the WHO has the potential to be the game-changer that drives innovation and discovery of better alternatives to the medicines we have today.”

Abdulrazaq Habib, Bayero University 

Abdulrazaq Habib, professor of infectious and tropical diseases from Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria, says ] that science can greatly address snakebites: “New technologies for producing antivenoms that use DNA from snakes could revolutionise production and dramatically reduce costs of treatment,” he says.
 
Habib told the event that governments around the world should back research into snakebites to achieve critical mass.
 
“The recognition of the problem by the World Health Organization and its member states has the potential to be the game-changer that drives innovation and discovery of better alternatives to the medicines we have today.”
 
The conference heard that many victims do not have access to modern treatment in health centres or hospitals, and the reliance on traditional medicine, which is also often ineffective, is very high. In Nigeria, for example, there were 2,000 deaths and 2,360 amputations from snakebites in 2010 while Burkina Faso reports mortality rates of up to 75 for every 100,000 people a year.
 
Tim Reed, executive director of the Netherlands-based Health Action International, says that people living in rural areas account for at least 90 per cent of snakebite cases. Farmers and herdsmen suffer the greatest burden, accounting for about 60 to 75 per cent of cases. Children are also at greater risk, the conference heard.
 
“Snakebites have not been adequately prioritised by governments or the broader public health community and this may, in part, be due to a lack of awareness by some governments,” Reed explains.
 
In addition, many snakebite victims are among the poorest and least educated members of society, often living in remote and resource-poor areas, although agricultural workers and farmers are frequent victims, the conference heard.
According to Reed, African governments need support to introduce awareness-raising and community engagement in snakebite care. “This, however, can only work alongside policies that ensure a reliable and predictable framework of treatment availability, which includes quality-assured and appropriate antivenom.”
 
Reed underlined the need for WHO member states need to finance the organisation in leading the fight against the global snakebite burden.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.