Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many of the world’s deadliest snakes, such as the black mamba and the carpet viper, which hunt and breed during the rainy seasons. Snakebites kill approximately 32,000 people in the region yearly, and leave 100,000 more individuals disabled. Some public health experts are calling this an epidemic, one that affects the poorest farmers.
To address the issue of sub-Saharan Africa’s venomous snakes, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 added envenomation to its list of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) (which includes leprosy, rabies, and other diseases) and commissioned a working group to create an action plan to address this crisis. Dr. David Williams, head of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, is chair of the WHO working group, which will focus on community engagement and making recommendations to improve the quality of training for medical workers dealing with snakebites and the public health infrastructure.
Williams says this will include establishing guidelines to “improve production, regulation, and quality control of antivenoms.” Campaigners are attempting to raise public awareness of this issue and have produced a documentary titled “Minutes to Die,” which features leading specialists. According to Williams, “We could reduce deaths from snakebite by half within a short period of time if we had the resources. I would hope in two or three years we could be talking about major changes.”
For more information on this issue, and to view to the “Minutes to Die” documentary, visit their Web site.
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