Tuesday October 23, 2018

WHO Plans To Enhance It’s Combat Against Snakebites

WHO estimates venomous snakes bite 1.8 million to 2.7 million people a year

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A snake charmer points out a snakebite during a performance with a snake outside a temple in Allahabad, India.
A snake charmer points out a snakebite during a performance with a snake outside a temple in Allahabad, India. VOA
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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.

Grass snake
Grass snake, Flickr

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.

Production of the anti-venom takes roughly two years, the in-Pharma Technologist website reported. It said the pharmaceutical company cited manufacturing costs, and competition from cheaper but less effective treatments, in its decision to stop producing Fav-Afrique.

MSF has estimated that the anti-venom costs a patient $250 to $500 for treatment.

Sanofi Pasteur announced in January that it had agreed to divest its anti-venom immunoglobulin range, which includes Fav-Afrique, to the U.K.-based firm MicroPharm.

“We hope this resolution will trigger some actions to better regulate the market … and to prioritize and subsidize” anti-venom production and distribution, Potet said.

“Now we need to make sure this resolution is translated into a concrete, fully funded action plan,” he added.

A researcher demonstrates how to extract venom from a snake to vacationing school children during a presentation at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Jan. 23, 2015
A researcher demonstrates how to extract venom from a snake to vacationing school children during a presentation at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Jan. 23, 2015, VOA

A WHO working group is expected to offer recommendations on how governments can bolster data collection, training for health workers, access to care and support for effective anti-venoms, according to Devex, a website aimed at the global development community. It said the group’s report is expected by Nov. 30.

Also read: Australian snakes have Asian origins study

Devex also reported that David Williams, the group’s chair, estimated “about $6 million was needed in 2018-2019 to prepare the recommendations, improve surveillance, deliver antivenoms, and address other technical and medical challenges.” (VOA)

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Ebola Not A Global Health Emergency: WHO

WHO advised DRC's nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories

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An emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization has decided that the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

The WHO said Wednesday that 216 cases of Ebola and 139 deaths had been reported, and its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee said the outbreak was a matter of serious concern, especially since it is occurring in an area of conflict in eastern DRC. It said this posed problems for health workers who need to move around freely and track people who are infected with the virus and need treatment.

But the committee said that one reason it did not regard the outbreak as a global threat was that the virus had not spread into neighboring countries.

Congo,ebola
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Committee Chairman Robert Steffan said the international response to the outbreak had been very good. He said WHO and other agencies had achieved quite a lot since the outbreak was declared Aug. 1. In fact, he said the disease was being brought under control in North Kivu province.

The disease is flaring up in another province, and the response is being concentrated in this area, he said, “so we do have some optimism that this outbreak, just like the one in May, will be brought under control within reasonable time.”

Steffan said the committee agreed that declaring an international emergency at this time would hinder efforts to contain the Ebola virus. He said a declaration would have implications for travel and trade, making it difficult for needed experts and supplies to access the affected areas.

Ebola, WHO
A health care worker from the World Health Organization, left, gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker who will then vaccinate people who might potentially have the virus, in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

However, as a precaution, WHO recommended exit screenings, including at airports, ports and land crossings. But it noted that entry screenings, particularly in distant airports, would have no public health benefit and would be costly.

Also Read: North Kivu And Ituri, Congo To Welcome More Than 80,000 Children In This New School Year

WHO advised DRC’s nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories, and it said it was supporting them with equipment and personnel. It said these preparedness activities were expensive and would require substantial financial support from the international community. (VOA)