Snakebite venom has been put on the list of neglected tropical diseases that should be given priority.
Being in the World Health Organisation’s category A means that snakebites will now get more support, including funding, to assist those afflicted by the potentially fatal bites.
The decision was based on a strong case by 18 member states who proved that snakebites meet all conditions to be given category A status.
Dr Sultani Matendechero, who is the head of neglected tropical diseases at the Ministry of Health, welcomed the move, saying that snakebite victims will now get more attention and that there will now be more resources to create awareness about and fight snakebites, which kill up to 32,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
This new prioritisation of snakebites is especially important for residents of Wajir, Garissa and Machakos, where sunny and dry weather conditions bring out snakes from their hideouts to look for water in homesteads, where they may bite people. Moyale, Marsabit, Isiolo, Garbatulla, Makindu, Kitui, Mwingi, Kibwezi, Voi, and Taveta are also prone to snakebites.
Dr Matendechero said the biggest challenge is getting the correct anti-venom in a given facility and the risk of stock-outs.
Snake anti-venoms are the only effective treatment to prevent or reverse most of the venomous effects of snakebites. They are included in the WHO List of Essential Medicines and should be part of any primary healthcare package where snakebites occur.
Dr Matendechero said his unit is working with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the National Museum of Kenya to map snake distribution to inform the distribution of appropriate anti-venom for the various regions where snakebites are common.
Anti-venom is either free or costs Sh600 to Sh1,000 in public health centres, whereas in private facilities it costs between Sh16,000 and Sh30,000. The Ministry of Health plans to train health workers on how to handle snakebites and the adverse effects sometimes experienced when a person is given anti-venom.
Snakebites can cause paralysis that may prevent breathing; bleeding disorders that can lead to a fatal haemorrhage; irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and which may result in limb amputation for those who survive the ordeal.
Children often suffer more severe effects than adults, due to their smaller body mass.
When bitten by a snake, the victim should tie the area with the bite, though not too tightly as to cause damage to blood vessels, to keep the poison from spreading. The victim should also be able to identify the snake, to ensure that he or she gets the right anti-venom at a health facility.
Some snakebites may not require anti-venom, but all snakebites must be reviewed at a health facility as soon as possible after the bite.