The international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today welcomed the addition of snakebite to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) list. Despite the fact that snakebite is estimated to kill over 100,000 people every year—more than any other disease on the list— there are hardly any resources to prevent and treat it, with very limited access to life-saving anti-venom therapy.
“This is an opportunity to finally get serious about tackling snakebite,” said Julien Potet, Policy Advisor on Neglected Tropical Diseases for MSF’s Access Campaign.
The supply of anti-venom treatments continues to be a problem in the most affected countries. In some cases, products that have been found ineffective are still being marketed; in others, effective anti-venoms such as Sanofi’s Fav-Afrique—considered by experts to be a very effective product against many African snake species—are not manufactured anymore (Sanofi decided to abandon production of Fav-Afrique in 2014 and the last batches have now expired). WHO has started evaluating the different existing products in order to help countries select quality anti-venoms that work against bites by local snake species and are safe to administer.
MSF treats more than 2,000 snakebite victims per year around the world in projects in countries such as the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and in the Middle East. While MSF provides the treatment free of charge in its facilities, the price of a treatment when paid out of pocket can often exceed US$100, making it practically inaccessible in low-resource rural settings where most people at risk live.
On top of the problems surrounding anti-venom supply, tackling snakebite is riddled with additional challenges, including the lack of adequate diagnostic tests for improved snake species identification, the absence of systematic training and clinical guidance for medical staff, and a poor understanding of the actual number and distribution of cases.
“We now hope that donors and governments will take concrete steps to reinforce training and guidance of medical staff on snakebite envenoming, better identify the hot spots with many unmet needs, cover some of the treatment costs, strengthen the capacity of WHO to evaluate antivenom quality, and support the development of new better tools,” said Potet.