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Snakebite – a disease of the poor

This week, the Kofi Annan Foundation convened a stakeholder meeting to discuss one of today’s most neglected global health problems: snakebite-induced death and disability in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of people die every year from snakebites, and many more remain permanently disfigured or disabled. Due to the lack of reliable data in most countries, it is hard to define the exact numbers of victims. What is clear, however, is that communities who suffer the most from snakebite are the most vulnerable and those without a political voice. Subsistence farmers, internally displaced persons in makeshift shelters, and impoverished rural communities are particularly affected by this disease of the poor. These groups also lack the most basic protections against snakebite, be it snake-proof footwear or the use of bed nets.

Too few medical resources are being devoted to this challenge, which allows the situation to worsen. Of serious concern is the lack of approved and effective anti-venom, coupled with the decision of some manufactures to cease production. In many affected areas, the transportation infrastructure required to quickly deliver victims to hospitals or distribute antivenom is seriously lacking. Even when victims do reach hospital, the facility is often under-equipped and under-trained in dealing with snakebite cases.

The Kofi Annan Foundation’s meeting on Snakebites in Africa: Challenges and Solutions brought together some of the world’s leading experts on snakebite, as well as representatives from governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), civil society and philanthropic institutions to provide solutions to this overlooked but critical challenge. Good progress has been made in defining a number of interventions to improve access to antivenom and snakebite prevention and treatment in both the short- and long-term.

As we move forward from this landmark meeting, it is imperative that we keep the momentum going and start working to define a comprehensive and widely-supported action plan to address this crisis in the most effective way. Essentially, this must include increasing awareness and funding for snakebite, which is a hugely neglected and underfunded healthcare problem. Working together in partnership – across sectors and disciplines – to prioritize this issue, we can reduce the burden of this disease and make real improvements in the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable peoples.

To learn more about the outcomes of the meeting, read the final report here.

Fabian Lange and Michal Khan
Kofi Annan Foundation