Snakebites, a hidden health crisis that kills up to 200 people around the world every day, is finally getting more widespread attention.
Last week, Wellcome Trust UK announced that it is investing $102 million into finding more modern and effective treatments against snakebites. The World Health Organization is also set to release a strategy to prevent and control envenoming — poisoning from venom getting into the blood.
Global Fight Against Snakebites
"Snakebite is — or should be — a treatable condition. With access to the right anti-venom, there is a high chance of survival," said Mike Turner, the director of science at Wellcome Trust. "While people will always be bitten by venomous snakes, there is no reason so many should die."
According to estimates, snakebite kills between 81,000 and 138,000 people around the world every year. An additional 400,000 or more are disabled from it.
"Snakebite treatment is essentially reliant on a 100-year-old process," stated David Lalloo, the director of Britain's Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He added that the lack of funding for scientific research has stalled the progress of snakebite treatment, causing thousands to die.
The current treatments for snakebites are manufactured by injecting horses with small amounts of venom and then harvesting their blood to be used to treat humans. The same practice has been in place since the 19th Century.
Experts also admitted that the technique has a high risk of contamination and side effects. Victims should be treated in hospitals — often very far away from where the snakebite occurred. By the time the affected reaches the hospital where the antivenom is administered, it might be too late.
Antivenoms can also be very expensive. A 2013 study found that victims in India had to take out loans to pay for snakebite treatment.
Saving Thousands Of Lives
One avenue of research that scientists would like to venture is the development of a universal antivenom. According to Wellcome, the world has less than half of the antivenom needed, some of which are ineffective because they are not adapted to local species. In Africa, for example, 90 percent of antivenom available are ineffective.
In addition to research, the health officials from WHO will focus on making sure that those who are vulnerable can recognize poisonous snakes within their communities and prevent them from being bitten by making simple changes such as wearing shoes.
WHO is aiming to halve the number of deaths and disabilities from snakebites by 2030.