Saturday April 20, 2019

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

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)

Next Story

WHO Calls for Better Vaccination Coverage Against Increasing Number of Measles Cases

The United Nations agency, citing preliminary data, said that more than 112,000 cases of the preventable but highly contagious disease have been reported across the globe

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Steve Sierzega receives a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., March 27, 2019. VOA

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first three months of the year compared to last year, the World Health Organization reported Monday.

The United Nations agency, citing preliminary data, said that more than 112,000 cases of the preventable but highly contagious disease have been reported across the globe in the January-to-March period. WHO called for better vaccination coverage against measles, which can kill or leave a child disabled for life.

Over recent months, WHO said spikes in the disease have occurred “in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States … as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.”

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Public health authorities worry about outbreaks in communities where vaccination rates are low, fueled by a growing movement of people who view the MMR vaccine, mumps and rubella as dangerous. VOA

“While this data is provisional and not yet complete, it indicates a clear trend,” WHO said. “Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases.”

The agency said the reported number of cases often lags behind the number of actual cases, meaning that the number of documented cases likely does not reflect the actual severity of the measles outbreaks.

For three weeks in a row, U.S. health authorities have added dozens of new reports of measles to its yearly total, now at 555, the biggest figure in five years. Twenty of the 50 U.S. states have now reported measles cases.

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FILE – 15-month-old August Goepferd received mumps and rubella booster shot at a clinic at Children’s Minnesota in Minneapolis. VOA

ALSO READ: New York Takes Drastic Steps to Prevent Spread of Measles Outbreak

More than half of the U.S. total — 285 cases — have been reported in New York City. Officials in the country’s largest city last week ordered mandatory measles vaccinations to halt the outbreak that has been concentrated among ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city’s Brooklyn borough.

City health department officials blamed anti-vaccine propagandists for distributing misinformation in the community. (VOA)