An international medical humanitarian organization revealed on Monday that the world will run out of its supply of the most effective treatment for snakebite by next year, placing thousands at risk.

In a statement released on Monday, medical charity group Doctors Without Borders said that the last batch of the anti-venom Fav-Afrique will expire in June 2016. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which produces the anti-venom, stopped producing the treatment last year and instead switched to producing rabies treatment.

Sanofi Pasteur spokesperson Alain Bernal said that the company was driven out of the market by its competitors that sell cheaper products. The pharmaceutical company announced in 2010 that it would stop producing anti-venom.

Although there are similar anti-venom products available in Africa, the effectiveness and safety of these treatments have not yet been properly established. To date, Fav-Afrique is the only anti-venom proven safe and effective in treating bites from a range of snakes found across sub-Saharan Africa, where each year about 30,000 die and about 8,000 others undergo amputation after being bitten by snakes.

"We are now facing a real crisis, so why do governments, pharmaceutical companies and global health bodies slither away when we need them most?" said Doctors without Borders snakebite adviser Gabriel Alcoba. "Imagine how frightening it must be to be bitten by a snake – to feel the pain and venom spread through your body – knowing it may kill you and there is no treatment available or that you can't afford to pay for it?"

Bernal said that it is strange that health officials only realize the problem five years after the company revealed it will no longer produce the treatment. He said that Sanofi Pasteur has offered to transfer its anti-venom technology to others, but none has so far materialized.

Thousands of people, many of whom are from developing countries, could be at risk once anti-venom treatments run out. Around 5 million people get bitten by snakes yearly. Snakebite also kills about 100,000 people and results in amputations and permanent disabilities in thousands of individuals.

The medical group said there would likely be no product to replace the snakebite treatment produced by Sanofi Pasteur for at least two years and this could mean more unnecessary deaths and disabilities.

Snakebite primarily affects people who live in rural areas. Many of the victims are children. Those who live in areas without nearby health facilities and those who cannot afford the treatment often resort to traditional healers or forego treatment.

Photo: Matt Reinbold | Flickr

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