The scourge of snakebite

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Centuries-old treatments are in dire need of an update

It speaks volumes for the state of global healthcare that snakebite, an ancient scourge, was declared last year a neglected tropical disease by the WHO. By the end of 2018, the agency had announced the development of a plan to deal with it. This Spotlight deals with the enormity of the problem as well as the ease with which it can be tackled. Given the right investment in quality antivenoms, facilities and personnel, no population need fear death from snakebite.
There is an urgent need to improve on century-old horse-derived serum, which is made by injecting horses with snake venom and extracting the antibodies for use on snakebite victims. While effective, horse-derived antivenom is costly to produce and carries the risk of severe allergic reactions. New methods under development include nanoparticles, diagnostic tools to determine the species of biting snakes, and lab-created antibodies.
India, where half of the 100,000 estimated global deaths from snakebite occur, is central to the Spotlight as a maker of traditional antivenom, as well as an innovator.