Snakebites added to list of Neglected Tropical Diseases

World Health Organization has added snakebites to its list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD).

The addition which came into effect yesterday was welcomed by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF).

Snakebites are estimated to kill over 100,000 people every year more than any other disease on the list of tropical diseases and hardly are there 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 its projects in Central African Republic, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Middle East.

The organization provides the treatment free of charge in its facilities, the price of a treatment when paid out of one’s pocket can often exceed US$100, making it practically inaccessible in low-resource rural settings where most people are at risk.

In addition to the problems surrounding anti-venom supply, tackling snakebite is riddled with additional challenges, including lack of adequate diagnostic tests for improved snake species identification and the absence of systematic training and clinical guidance for medical staff, and 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 of the hot spots with many unmet needs, cover of some treatment costs, strengthening capacity of WHO to evaluate anti-venom quality, and support for the development of new better tools,” said Potet.


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