Governments around the world plan to strike back harder against snakebite, a scourge that kills tens of thousands of people a year.
A World Health Organization (WHO) resolution raises the priority of improving snakebite prevention as well as access to effective and affordable anti-venom. The measure was approved by 192 countries in late May.
The WHO estimates that venomous snakes bite 1.8 million to 2.7 million people a year, killing between 81,000 and 138,000 of them.
“For every person who dies following a snakebite, another four or five are left with disabilities such as blindness, restricted mobility or amputation, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the WHO reports.
Snakebite envenoming is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, the WHO reports. People in rural, impoverished areas there and elsewhere are most at risk, challenged by poor or remote health systems, and limited diagnoses, ambulances and other emergency care – including reliable anti-venom.
In sub-Saharan Africa, just 2 percent of people bitten by venomous snakes have access to appropriate anti-venom, says Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the aid group also known as Doctors Without Borders.
“We need to know better the data [on] where most cases take place,” said Julien Potet, MSF’s policy adviser on neglected tropical diseases, speaking by phone last week from Geneva. “We need to better regulate the quality of the anti-venoms, to distribute them accordingly in the areas of highest need” and to make them affordable, “because otherwise they [patients] will not be able to access the product.”
Potet pointed out that French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur has stopped manufacturing Fav-Afrique, the only serum known to effectively treat bites from some sub-Saharan African snakes. The last batches of the company’s serum expired in June 2016.