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Needless deaths from snake bites – By Rose Moses

Nothing can be more traumatic than watching, helplessly, a patient die from a situation that requires just a shot/dose of well known and ought-to-be available vaccine, injections, or oral medication.

That seems to be the lot of some medical officials in Gombe and Plateau states, where reports reveal needless loss of lives from snake bites following acute scarcity of snake anti-venom drugs in the country, or better still, the area.

This development is not just a sad commentary but a reflection of the pitiable state of the nation’s health sector.

Two hundred and fifty victims of snake bites were said to have died within a spate of three weeks in Plateau and Gombe States as a result of scarcity of the drugs.

This figure only represents the number of confirmed deaths from three snake treatment centres, namely, the General Hospital, Kaltungo; Ali Mega Pharmacy, all in Gombe State, and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State.

In other words, the figure definitely gets higher when undocumented cases are put into consideration. Added to this is the fact that many other victims were said to be lying critically, even on the floors, having exhausted available beds, at the centres with health officials unable to do much.

Without the anti-venom, doctors say they are helpless. And according to reports, the snake anti-venom drugs, Echitab Plus ICP polyvalent, and Echitab G monovalent, had not been supplied to the country since August, thereby throwing the treatment centres into crisis after the last vials were used up in the first week of October.

While Echitab Plus ICP, said to be produced at Instituto Clodomiro Picado, University of Costa Rica, treats bites from all venomous snakes in Nigeria, Echitab G, produced by Micropharm Limited, United Kingdom, is solely for carpet viper bites, the commonest poisonous snakes in the country.

The other alternative, Indian anti-venom, medics say, is not as effective in treatment of bites from carpet vipers as it does not elicit much response when administered even repeatedly, while just a single dose of the Echitab drugs is enough to cure a patient.

More worrisome also is that some victims of snake bites, usually very common during the harvest season, are said to travel all the way from Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi, Borno and Plateau States for treatment at the centres in Gombe and Plateau.

What a long and horrendous journey that must be! And considering the state of the roads, it may well be a journey of death than one of redemption for victims.

How anyone beaten by snake in Borno, for instance, is expected to wait until he/she gets to Gombe or Plateau before receiving treatment, beats every imagination, if you have an idea of the distance involved.

One would have expected authorities concerned to be more proactive by ensuring availability of the anti-venom drugs to these areas at all times, more so when the menace of snake bite is said to be “worse than Ebola, Monkey Pox and even HIV/AIDS.”

Expectedly, some criminals are already capitalising on the crisis by faking the drugs and selling the drug for as high as N43, 000 per vial, contrary to the original anti-snake venom that was sold by the Echitab Study Group for between N13, 500 to N30, 000.

Government ought to treat the issue of snake bite as a national emergency by also finding ways of working with the Echitab Study Group to provide a lasting solution to the menace.

Unfortunately, our health sector is generally in a state of crisis, lacking in basic equipment for medicare and ideas, something the wife of the president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, in a recent public outburst, further confirmed.

Also reacting to my online post recently on the matter, Dr. Chike Akunyili, husband to former minister of information and DG of NAFDAC, late Dora Akunyili, would give a clue to the fact that not much importance is attached to improvement of the health sector when he revealed that “Dora, for her PhD, successfully extracted a potent anti-snake substance from a native plant called Scomanophytum Japonicum.”

The research, he said, was widely acclaimed and earned her a place at the University of London as a Commonwealth Fellow. The extract, tried at London, was seen to be active against the venom from most dreaded snakes and even Cobras, he said.

But sadly, “these research findings are on the shelf, unused at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he lamented, wondering why we are now talking of scarcity of snake venoms antidotes, and concluding that we are not serious as a country.

Although Dr. Nandul Durfa, Managing Director, Echitab Study Group, representative of the two companies that produce the anti-snake-venom drug in Nigeria, would blame the scarcity of the anti-venom on “late placement of order for its production,” Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in a reaction to the development, debunked the claim, saying the country was not out of stock of the drugs.

All that notwithstanding, and if we ever want to move forward, measures must be adopted to ensure continuous supply of quality anti-venom drugs, especially to areas prone to snakes.

 


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