100,000 people die of snakebites each year
And the world will soon be out of a critical venom antidote, making the numbers even more dramatic..
Across the globe, 100,000 people lose their lives annually to snakebites, says Doctors Without Borders. And some 400,000 people end up with limbs amputated or disfigured after being bitten by a snake. For perspective, Ebola has taken the lives of about 11,000 people in West Africa.
Fortunately for people in Africa there is an anti-venom called Fav-Afrique which is effective in neutralizing the bites of 10 lethal African snakes, including spitting cobras, carpet vipers and black mambas. It has saved many lives.
"I saw a small child who had been bitten on the face," says Dr. Gabriel Alcoba, the snakebite medical adviser for Doctors Without Borders. "The child's whole face was swollen. He could practically not breathe, and you could not see his eyes." After treatment with Fav-Afrique, the symptoms were “all resolved in two days, and the child could go home."
But as it turns out, the world will have run out of Fav-Afrique by June of 2016 and no more is being made.
“We are now facing a real crisis so why do governments, pharmaceutical companies and global health bodies slither away when we need them most?” says Alcoba. "We're talking about more than 30,000 deaths per year. This is an epidemic. This is comparable to many other diseases."
The anti-venom is made by French company Sanofi Pasteur – they are the only manufacturers, but they ceased production last year because they were priced out of the market and are now making a rabies treatment instead. Alain Bernal, a Sanofi Pasteur spokesman, told BBC that the company had offered to transfer the anti-venom technology to others, adding, "Nothing has materialized yet."
Governments, nonprofits and the World Health Organization need to get busy and address the issue, Alcoba says. "It's a global responsibility."
"For us at WHO, snakebites are an important issue," says WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.. "We know how much mortality and morbidity this causes."
But WHO is struggling for the funding if not the anti-venom itself – at $500 per treatment of Fav-Afrique, it’s more than a month's salary for many families in Africa. "That's what's hindering us, and the production of snakebite anti-venom worldwide," Hartl says.