Snake bites kill approximately 32,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa and leaves a 100,000 survivors nursing injuries, and some suffer permanent physical disabilities, according to a study.
Kenya and Cameroon are the worst affected countries on the continent with Nigeria topping the list. The snake bites are a crisis in the region especially due to inadequate resources to respond to it on time.
Early last month, two hundred and fifty died from venomous snake bites in Nigeria’s Plateau and Gombe states. The crisis overwhelmed doctors due to an acute scarcity of snake anti-venom drugs in the country.
Commenting on snake bites data, Dr. Jean-Philippe Chippaux, told CNN that the casualties could be higher than the statistics show.
"Information from health centers is limited to patients who attended the clinic or hospital, which is half of the total patients or less," says Chippaux.
Chippaux, a leading venom expert and founder of the African Society of Venomology (ASV), says one of the reasons is some victims prefer to visit traditional healers a decision that can be fatal at times as in some instances the venom can kill within hours.
Additionally, most of those affected live in isolated and less connected areas making access to medical facilities with specialist staff trained to diagnose and treat snake bite challenging.
According to Chippaux, the issue has been neglected by governments and institutions across the region.
"Diagnosis and treatment of snakebites are no longer taught in medical and nursing schools. No country has a strategy for combating envenomation. There is no policy of selecting and distributing antivenoms."
To address the issue, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in collaboration with like-minded institutions in Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon have formed the African Snakebite research group and established ‘Snakebite Research and Intervention Centres’ (SRIC) in each of these countries.
The centers will improve the (i) availability of effective snakebite treatment in rural remote hospitals in greatest need and (ii) access to treatment for snakebite victims. To promote each government to have independent antivenom-efficacy information, the program "purchased a vial of as many different antivenom brands as available from local pharmacies and preclinically tested their efficacy against venoms of the most medically important snakes in the region."
One of the reasons for lack of adequate resources to handle the crisis is low public profile of the issue. But campaigners have taken up the matter to promote public discourse through a documentary titled "Minutes to Die," featuring many of the leading specialists.
Community engagement is yet an other strategy which Dr. David Williams, head of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne and now chair of the WHO working group says could help tackle the menace.
Additionally, people should be encouraged to visit clinics rather than local healers, wear protective footwear in the fields and "snake-proofing" their homes.