The non-availability of anti-snake bite venom in the country is not only shocking, embarrassing and catastrophic, but also a serious indictment on our health system.
Why is it that after 57 years of independence, Nigeria cannot produce anti-snake venom and it has to rely on other countries for the purchase and supply of the drug? This is a big shame to a country touting herself as the giant of Africa and this must be urgently addressed if indeed we are serious about the safety of lives of the citizenry.
According to recent reports, no fewer than 250 victims of snake bite died in three weeks in Plateau and Gombe States alone, following scarcity of anti-venom drugs in the country. The figure represents confirmed deaths from three snake treatment centres— General Hospital, Kaltungo; Ali Mega Pharmacy, Gombe, and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State. Other victims in these medical centres were reported to be in critical conditions, with some of them left on bare floor as the doctors said they were helpless without the anti-venom.It was further reported that the snake anti-venom drugs – Echitab Plus ICP polyvalent and Echitab G monovalent – had not been supplied to the country since August, throwing the treatment centres into crisis after the last vials were used up in the first week of October.
Echitab Plus ICP, produced at Instituto Clodomiro Picado, University of Costa Rica, treats bites from all venomous snakes in Nigeria, while Echitab G, produced by Micropharm Ltd, United Kingdom, is solely for carpet viper bites.Many snake bite victims either absconds from the medical centres or do not go there at all because of the fore-knowledge of lack of anti-venom in the centres. They are left with no choice than patronize herbal centres which turn out fatal some times.
Such deaths therefore we believe are avoidable and should be avoided forthwith. Since governments particularly Federal and States know that the snake bites are rampant during this period of the year (harvest season), there should have been proactive measures in terms of massive provision of snake anti-venom drugs to tackle the phenomenon.We challenge the Federal Government to promptly step in to assist Echitab Study Group, the outfit coordinating the supply and distribution of the Echitab drugs, so as to make them readily available to the treatment centres. This has become imperative considering the fact that it is only this type of anti-venom drug that is effective in the treatment of the bites from carpet vipers, the commonest poisonous snakes in the country.
Further deaths from the snake bites must stop. The Federal and States Ministries of Health should up their game in fulfilling core mandate of providing affordable and qualitative healthcare to the citizenry while the nation’s research institutes especially on disease control should work on preventive vaccines. Government should also fund the institutes adequately to achieve the objectives for which they were established.While we agree that government should treat the issue as a national emergency, we also align with those who said there is the need for the snake anti-venom to be seen as a security issue with its necessity equated with having an army, customs service, police force and other security agencies.
We believe that snake bite must be regarded as a menace that must be taken seriously because, according to medics, it is “worse than Ebola, Monkey Pox and even HIV/AIDS”.The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) should be vigilant now that fake anti-venom drugs are in the market. Already, it was reported that due to acute shortage or scarcity of the drug in the country, some criminals are faking the drug and selling it at N43,000 per vial, contrary to the original anti-snake venom sold by the Echitab Study Group at the cost of between N13,500 to N30,000.So, the NDLEA operatives should spread their drag nets to all nooks and crannies of the states the snake bites are rampant and arrest the fake manufacturers and sellers of anti-venom drugs with the aim of bringing them to book.
Government must avoid is a situation where desperate people produce fake anti-venom drugs and work towards an effective handling and supply of the drug to guarantee quality and ensure that only genuine drugs are supplied to the treatment centres because a life lost can never be recovered.That is why it is very important for the government to work with the Echitab Study Group to have a reliable supply channel; government should subsidise the cost to avoid a major crisis like the one in our hands now.We further urge government to closely look into the possibility of domesticating the production of the drug to avoid constant crisis and make the price of the drug affordable. This is important because victims resort to self-help due to the high cost of the drug which is imported and considering the high cost of the dollar.
While we commend the efforts the Echitab Study Group to partner the Ministry of Health to explore areas of collaboration towards manufacturing the drug locally through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) arrangement, we appeal to the Federal, States and Local governments to intervene by committing funds for the purchase of the anti- snake venom considering the colossal damage in the past few weeks.Also, a Bill initiated by Hon. Tim Golu, member of the House of Representatives representing Pankshin/Kanam/Kanke Constituency in Plateau State, for the establishment of a National Centre for Research and Production of Snake Vaccines, which would soon go through public hearing, is commendable and we hope action will be accelerated for the passage of the Bill into law considering its importance to the safety of lives of the citizenry especially the rural dwellers.
We demand that all hands must be on deck to ensure continuous supply of the vaccines and ensure that only quality anti-venom drugs are brought to the country. This will go a long way in not only guaranteeing continued supply of only genuine anti-venom drugs from multiple supply channels, but also providing a lasting solution to this menace.
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