Snake bite is one reptile attack that kills fast, and thus, requires urgent medical attention for its victim to survive. Sometime in March this year, Nigerians were alarmed when reports in the media indicated scarcity of Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) in the country. This is at a time when snake bites are common in this part of the world as snakes are usually forced out of their holes when the weather is hot. Nandul Durfa, Managing Director of Echitab Study Ltd Guarantee, the company solely in charge of collecting and distributing anti-snake venom in the country said the entire country had less than 200 vales of ASV left. Durfa said, “We have very few vales left. Our ASV supply is depleted. What we have is less than 200”, stressing that “the quantity in the store is so little”.
Also speaking at a recent one day training on management of snake bite, organized for health workers, Prof. Abdulrazaq Habib of the Nigeria Snakebite Research and Intervention Center, Bayero University Kano, disclosed that Nigeria has the highest burden of snakebites in Africa, as it kills about 2,000 and maims 3,000 Nigerians every year. He explained that one out of every five victims bitten by a carpet viper, puff adder or cobra snake may die as a result of the poison; adding that four out of the five victims bitten by a mamba snake may not survive the effect of the poison. Some of those who survive are sometimes left physically disabled or have the affected hand or leg amputated.
Aside of the scarcity of anti-snake venom, difficulty in accessing health facility is another challenge for victims of snakebite in many parts of he country. Prof. Habib said, “The high rate of mortality and amputation resulting from snake bites would have been avoided if victims of the snake bites were taken to a health facility to get the appropriate care on time”. The situation, during this period of ASV scarcity, is better imagined in places like Kaltungo, Gombe state and Zamko Comprehensive Centre, Langtang, in Plateau State where snakes are common sight. Depending on specie, the effect of snake bite may include paralysis, tissue damage leading to amputation of affected parts, bleeding and inability to breath.
Hot season is naturally the period when farmers return to farms to prepare land for the next planting season. This increases farmers’ vulnerability to snake bites. Hunters and herdsmen who walk in bush paths and forests are also vulnerable to snake bites during this period. Farmers, herders, and hunters who constitute the greater percentage of victims of snake bites are, on the other hand, active players in the agricultural sector of the country’s economy which now enjoys government patronage under its economic diversification agenda. Nigeria therefore cannot afford to ignore a menace that threatens this sector, which is also why government must intensify efforts to tackle the acute scarcity of ASV to minimise deaths from snakebites.
Explaining the production of ASV for the country, Dr. Nandul Durfa said, “Normally, we take live snakes to Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where they are killed and their venom extracted and sent to the manufacturing sites in Wales and Costa Rica. The drugs are produced there and brought to Nigeria. ASV come in two forms: EchiTAB Plus ICP polyvalent, produced at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado, University of Costa Rica, which treats bites from all venomous snakes in Nigeria, and EchiTAB G, produced by Micropharm Ltd, United Kingdom, solely for carpet vipers; the commonest snakes in Nigeria. Aside of the transport, the weather is different. We must ensure that the snakes are kept in a regulated temperature similar to what they are used to in Nigeria, so that they will not die”.
I consider it extremely dangerous for us as a country to continue to rely solely on foreign companies for the production of a particular drug, in this case ASV, for the treatment of victims of a life-threatening attack that is as serious as snake bite. As a nation that is fully aware of this phenomenon, there is no reason why we should not have enough ASV in stock at any given moment. This in a way illustrates how government cares about the health of its citizens.
The federal government needs to make efforts to produce ASV locally instead of spending millions of naira to import antidotes for snakebites. If we produce ASV locally in Nigeria, we would be able to ward off the huge amount of money paid in foreign currencies to technicians in the UK; saving a lot of cost. Government is encouraged to seek collaboration with foreign partners in the transfer of ASV technology involved in ASV production. If we produce ASV locally, the cost price of the drug will eventually be lower than what it is at present. This would also reduce the current annual statistics of victims of snake bite in the country. This may not be too difficult to try since there are snake farms in the country now.
There is nothing wrong if the Federal Ministry of Health partners with interested companies to manufacture the drug locally; possibly through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) arrangement. Federal Ministry of Health could equally synergize with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in the production of ASV as well as in the control and management of snake bites. Government must see snake bite as a menace that must be tackled because it affects rural dwellers who are major contributors to our GDP through farming, cattle rearing, and by extension, mining. May Allah (SWT) protect us against all harmful creatures from among mankind, Jinn and all species of animals (wild as well as domestic), amin.