There is need for an enlightenment campaign on how to manage cases of snake bites

The prevalence of fatal snake bites in Nigeria should worry the authorities. According to a recent report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), statistics of snake bites obtained from some medical centres across the country revealed a steady rise with the Kaltungo General Hospital in Gombe, for instance, recording an average of 20 cases every day. Most of these victims visited herbalists because they could not afford the anti-snake venom which costs an average of N27,000 a vial. The solution lies in manufacturing anti-snake venom (ASV) locally, but that has been a major challenge.

Reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that in Nigeria 174 snakebites per 100,000 population/year are reported and that the saw-scaled or carpet viper is responsible for 90 per cent of bites and 60 per cent of deaths. In the Benue Valley, where most of these tragedies occur, the incidence of snakebite was found to be 497 per 100,000 population per year with a mortality rate of 12.2 per cent.

Ordinarily, snakes attack their victims either when they are threatened or are surprised or picked up mistakenly or trodden on. Whichever way, the life of the victim is usually in grave danger and the speed at which incapacitation and death come to the victim depends on how venomous the snake is. Not even those who pretend to love snakes or exhibit them as performing animals survive their treacherous bites.

According to WHO, snakebite is a neglected public health problem for most of the countries in Africa. Rural populations are frequent victims as they go about their daily food production and animal rearing activities and as they reside in the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, many of these snakebite cases go unreported and thus do not appear in official epidemiological statistics. Health workers often have little or no formal training in the management of snakebite, and appropriate anti-venom is rarely available.

Unfortunately, snake bites can be deadly if not treated quickly. Children are at higher risk for death or serious complications due to snake bites because of their smaller body size. But the right anti-venom can save a person’s life. Getting to an emergency room as quickly as possible is very important. If properly treated, many snake bites will not have serious effects. It is therefore important for the government to strengthen the nation’s clinics and hospitals as well as engage in health education as the main preventive measure. This is because it has been determined that only 8.5 per cent of snake bite victims attend hospitals in Nigeria.

According to medical practitioners, snake treatment and management are very expensive, putting the average cost of treating one case at N62,000.

Only recently, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State said he incurred N30 million cost treating snake bite victims on charity within months. Most of the victims are unable to afford the amount because they are mainly subsistence farmers. On account of this, it is important for the government to subsidise the treatment or provide it free of charge and make the anti-venom available in shops and pharmacies. In 2011, the federal government said it would make available and affordable anti- snakebite venoms (ASV), but insisted on the application of preventive strategies.

Beyond the development of ASV in the country, the government also needs to embark on sustained public enlightenment, particularly of people in rural communities. They should be told how to prevent snake bites and what to do as first aid when someone is bitten. Besides, to ensure the availability of the ASV before local production of the drugs begins, government should import large quantities. It is also important to train medical personnel to effectively manage cases of snakebite early since the venom usually worsens the health of victims by the minute and increases their likelihood of succumbing to death as a consequence of its potency.

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