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Combatting Hunger

Snakebite in Africa – Dr Robert Harrison weighs in

Dr Robert Harrison, Head of LSTM’s Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit, has been in consultation with the Kofi Annan Foundation in relation to the burden of death and disability caused by snakebite in Africa.

The Foundation convened a meeting of the relevant stakeholders in Geneva, Switzerland in December, which Dr Harrison chaired and helped organise. The report, Snakebite in Africa: Challenges and Solutions, outlines the current challenge posed by the problem and acknowledges the importance of bringing together a number of proposals as a roadmap for action going forward.

During the meeting, Dr Harrison outlined the current state of the snakebite challenge in Africa, pointing out the significant socioeconomic problems associated with it. Dr Harrison said:

“Combined with the fact that snakebite is not eradicable, the lack of accurate data and the fact that treatment is often complex and expensive perhaps explains why snakebite often has a lower priority than other tropical diseases – especially in countries with limited health budgets. Most victims live in remote and impoverished areas, with poor access to healthcare. These are often subsistence farmers, already economically insecure, and snakebite can push them and their families further into poverty.”

Dr Harrison considers the recent engagement of the Kofi Annan Foundation with the plight of African snakebite victims as a major advocacy development.

“The important aspect of the meeting and the involvement of the Kofi Annan Foundation is that it provided us with a platform to discuss this under-represented health problem which disproportionately affects those people living on the very edge of poverty”, continued Dr Harrison.

“The meeting included key players in the region, including the WHO, MSF, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Instituto Clodomiro Picado, the Global Snakebite Initiative, Health Action International, the Wellcome Trust and the Global Health Investment Fund.  We were able to discuss and identify effective interventions to reduce bites and deliver high quality, affordable antivenom. The Kofi Annan Foundation’s agreement to support global efforts to reduce the burden of snakebite in Africa significantly improves our chances of achieving this aim.”