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Tackling snakebite: a holistic approach

This blog post was written by José María Gutiérrez of the University of Costa Rica, who attended the Kofi Annan Foundation’s December 2016 meeting on snakebite and continues to collaborate with us on this issue.

Snakebite envenoming constitutes a serious public health problem that kills and maims hundreds of thousands of people every year in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. It is a disease that affects impoverished farmers and herdsmen, generating a wave of intense social suffering. Despite its impact, this disease has received little attention in the past from health and political authorities, research agencies, and public health advocates. Concerted global action is urgently required to confront this terrible and neglected disease. In Latin America, the attention given to snakebite envenoming has resulted in significant improvements in managing this problem.

In my country, Costa Rica, a holistic and integrated effort to tackle snakebite envenoming has been long standing. It combines prevention programs at the community level, manufacture and widespread distribution of antivenoms used for treating envenomings, training of medical and nursing staff in the management of the disease, and scientific research on the various aspects of snakebites. Such an integrated approach, with the involvement of diverse stakeholders, has resulted in a significant drop in the morbidity and mortality induced by snakebites in the region. This successful experience has prompted the development of cooperative programs, in Costa Rica, for the manufacture and distribution of antivenoms to several Latin American countries and, more recently, to countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso) and Papua New Guinea.

This is an example of South-South collaboration that should be strengthened in the search for solutions in sub-Saharan Africa. International initiatives currently promoted by the Global Snakebite Initiative (GSI), Health Action International (HAI), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Costa Rican government, with the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), should be supported by the international community. Only such an integrated and multi-stakeholder approach is likely to provide long standing solutions to this public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. The involvement of the Kofi Annan Foundation in this global effort is highly welcomed and represents a significant step forward for reducing the vast human suffering caused by snakebite envenomings.

José María Gutiérrez
Instituto Clodomiro Picado – University of Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica