SNAKEBITES: Little hope of cure for the most vulnerable

17 days to go before last batch for only proven safe and effective antivenom to treat snakebites from different types of snakes across Sub-Saharan Africa expires at the end of June

Monday, June 13, 2016 — Dear media colleagues,

You will recall Doctors Without Borders (MSF) raising alarm in September 2015 about snakebites as being a major killer and while the world’s health community remains trapped in in-action, thousands of people continue to die or risk permanent disability.

Every year 5 million people are bitten by snakes worldwide with 1 in 10 risking death or permanent disability. Of these, about 30 000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die from snakebite – roughly the equivalent of the number of deaths from meningitis annually.

We also warned that the only proven safe and effective antivenom to treat snakebites from different types of snakes across Sub-Saharan Africa, Fav-Afrique, will soon be unavailable as the last batch expires at the end of this month. Fav Afrique is produced by a French pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

Now, just 17 days from expiry, MSF once again calls for action to tackle snakebite as a global health emergency instead of a lingering neglected public health issue it remains today.

At MSF, we will have to adapt the way we treat our patients once the FAV-Afrique expires, but we are uncertain what impact the treatment will have.  

We are calling on governments and health bodies to provide safe, effective and affordable treatments urgently since treatment is very costly and not available to those who need it most.

For snakebite victims in South Sudan like Nyekuony (35) and Nyajinma  (6), getting treatment remains a struggle and this is just symptomatic of a wide crisis. It can cost up to US$250 (R3,796) to treat one patient from a snakebite - an equivalent of two years’ salary for some people.

Today we share with you Nyekuony and Nyajinma’s stories to highlight the urgency of the situation and show what many people grapple with in order to access treatment for this neglected health condition.    



A boy, with an amputated leg due to lack of access to care after being bitten by a snake, on the banks of the Pibor River in Jonglei State. Up to 75 per cent of people cannot access even the most basic healthcare in South Sudan. Apart from a small Ministry of Health facility in Pibor town, MSF is the only primary healthcare provider for over 160,000 people in this part of Jonglei State. Photographer: Cédric Gerbehaye
Akuel, 48, was bitten twice in his right leg by a sawscaled viper whilst digging his garden. 6 hours later he came to the MSF hospital in Agok, with a painful swelling. He received injections of anti venom and anti tetanos. Without this his life would have been in danger. Photographer: Pierre-Yves Bernard
Banywich Bone, 18 ans, was reffered to Agok From Mayom, where MSF runs a primary health center. He was bitten by a snake three years ago, while he was sleeping at home. When he arrived in the hospital, he presented an infected wound for which doctors blame the snake bite. His left leg had necrotic tissus and pain, the wound was infected and MSF surgeon had to amputate the leg above the knee. Photographer: Pierre-Yves Bernard
Nyekuony, 35, lost her foot and lower leg due a a snakebite that was not treated on time. Two years after being bitten, her flesh and bone had started to rot, eating away at her foot. The MSF surgeon at the Agok hospital had to amputate her leg to avoid further damage. Photographer: Alexandra Malm
The Egyptian cobra (Naja haje) is a species of cobra found in Africa. It is one of the largest cobra species native to Africa. Photographer: Gabriel Martinez
Angela Makamure Press Officer at Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa