Nigeria will co-host a meeting in Geneva on snakebites later this week, as part of a World Health Organization rollout of a global strategy to reduce by 50 percent the deaths and disabilities associated with snake venom.
West Africa sees up to 5,350 such deaths annually across 16 countries, according to a 2018 WHO report, with a single hospital in Nigeria seeing an equal number of patients across a two-year span. At least 250 Nigerians died in a time period of just three weeks in 2017 because no antivenom was available, and similar impacts are seen across sub-Saharan Africa.
In Africa, only an estimated 2 percent of snakebite cases are treated, according to the VenomAb biotech company in Denmark.
“For millions of men, women and children around the world, the risk of snakebite is a daily concern as they go about their everyday activities – walking to school, tending gardens, herding livestock, fetching water or simply going to the toilet – where a misplaced step, a momentary lapse of concentration or being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be fatal,” said WHO.
The health organization and partners including Wellcome Trust in the UK note that it’s a neglected tropical disease comparable to prostate or cervical cancer in its health burden costs. Ahead of the meeting, Wellcome has announced USD$101.7 million in funding to develop antivenoms and access.
“Treatment has progressed little in the last century, and is too rarely accessible, safe and effective in the places where it is needed the most,” said Mike Turner, Wellcome’s Director of Science. “It’s an incredibly challenging issue – there has been almost no investment in snakebite research over the last decade – but it’s also one that is solvable with support from WHO, national governments, industry and other funders.”
To learn more about the new WHO program, check this link.