As numerous Kenyans struggle with pangs of snakebites especially because of hot, dry weather conditions, strides are being made to reduce preventable loss of lives and disabilities from being bitten by venomous snakes.
The world marked this year’s International Snakebite Awareness Day last week at a time when anti-venom is still unaffordable and or inaccessible to many victims across the country.
But as part of interventions to ease suffering of victims of snakebites, the government and NGOs have mounted a campaign that will make snakebites a neglected tropical disease, elevating it to a national concern.
Early 2018, Bio-Ken Snake Farm in partnership with WildlifeDirect and Kenya Red Cross initiated discussions with World Health Organisation, ministries of Health and Tourism, and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) to make snakebites a notifiable disease.
“This would allow the government to collect data on incidents so as to stock the correct anti-venom in the hotspots. People are dying because of lack of anti-venom, lack of education and lack of trained people to administer the drugs,” said Dr Paula Kahumbu, the WildlifeDirect CEO.
According to her, venomous snakebites must be treated with the same urgency as rabies.
In February, the Health ministry, the county government and Doctors without Borders (MSF) launched a three-month (mid-April to June) training targeting snakebite prone parts of Tiaty and Baringo North constituencies.
Dr Winnie Bore, the Baringo County Chief Officer for Public Health, said through training of community health workers as well as some of their staff in various hospitals and stocking of anti-venom in health facilities in hotspots had significantly reduced cases.
The county recorded between 300 to 500 cases of snakebites monthly, but this has gone down to between 150 and 200 cases. “We want to use this strategy to tackle other diseases such as malaria,” added Dr Bore.
In Baringo, Dr Bore said the residents were trained on how to tackle snakebites, and they abandoned the traditional practices such as the use of a popular black stone or concoction of herbs as treatment.
“Most of them now understand that anti-venom works and this has also helped to lower these cases,” added the chief officer.
Ms Wangari Wanguru, who was the MSF team leader during the Baringo training said the cost of doses remained a stumbling block as it was out of reach for most Kenyans. “A single dose goes for between Sh3,500 and Sh30,000 and in some cases, a snake bite victim requires five or sometimes up to 10 doses,” she told the HealthyNation.
In Kitui, Ms Cecilia Ngari from Snakebite Research and Intervention said they have introduced a programme where motorcycle ambulances in Mwingi Sub-County to help snakebite victims to get treatment on time.
She said there were only two available anti-venom doses in the country, most of which were from India and other countries. “The Vins is most common in public hospitals, but we are encouraging the use of Inoserp since it has proved to be more efficient than the other,” added the expert.
But there is hope. She said the centre was working on coming up with a Kenyan based vaccine in the next four to five years.
“We have been collecting snake species from various parts of the country and keeping them in a herpetarium where we are researching with the hope of getting suitable anti-venom. Most of the imported ones require one to use more than one dose which makes it more expensive,” said Ms Ngari.
Through an amendment to the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, KWS removed snakebites from the list of animal deaths or injuries that should be compensated.