Wellcome Trust - Snakebites: making treatments safe, effective and accessible

7 July, 2019

News item from Wellcome Trust, which is investing £80m in snakebite treatment. Comment from me below.



Treatments for snakebites already exist and yet the human toll from snakebites is one of the world's biggest hidden health crises. They kill more than 120,000 people each year and leave another 400,000 with life-changing disabilities, mostly in the poorest communities. To prevent this, we want to help make safe, effective and accessible snakebite treatments a reality.

Every 5 minutes... approximately 50 people are bitten by a snake, of whom 25 people will be envenomed (injected with venom), 4 will be permanently disabled and 1 will die...

Three key problems are preventing this from happening:

- a global antivenom crisis – the world produces less than half of the antivenom it needs, and this only covers 57% of the world’s species of venomous snake

- a lack of research – with limited investment into snakebite, the emerging technologies that might deliver new treatments have not been properly investigated

- a weak regulatory framework – the current lack of regulatory controls is often allowing inappropriate products to be used.

Antivenom is currently the only medicine for treating snakebite and it is made by injecting horses with venom – a 19th-century technology. There are no common production, safety or efficacy standards, which means there is a high risk of antivenom being contaminated and causing adverse reactions...

We want to help transform the way in which snakebite treatments are researched and delivered. If successful, this will also serve as a model for other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Our ambitions are to:

Bring production of snakebite treatments into the 21st century...

Develop the next generation of treatments...

Build and sustain snakebite as a global health priority...

What happens to patients when they are bitten by a snake and are far from a hospital? This report from CNN outlines current antiquated treatments and the reality of being bitten by a snake.


COMMENT (NPW): It is encouraging that the Wellcome Trust is investing a substantial amount of money to reduce the global disease burden of snakebite. The consequences of snakebite go far beyond the availability of antivenom, and depend on basic first aid measures and appropriate care-seeking, as described by WHO. It is notable, for example, that 'Many people die every year on the way to a health facility as a result of being transported lying flat on their backs and having their upper airway obstructed by vomit, or paralysis of muscles in the tongue. Keep them on their left side with mouth turned down so that the risk of this is reduced.' https://www.who.int/snakebites/treatment/en/

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org