Sharper focus on snakebites

Development minister Lilianne Ploumen is supporting efforts to better protect people in developing countries from snakebites. ‘The scale of this problem has been underestimated,’ said the minister. ‘There is considerable scope for improvement in the areas of both prevention and antidote production.’ The minister saw the impact of snakebites for herself when she visited a Médecins Sans Frontières clinic in Ethiopia last spring.

Currently 5 million people a year fall victim to snakebites, 125,000 of whom die. Another 400,000 people suffer long-term harm from the bites. ‘The situation is especially poignant when you consider that antidotes have been developed but in many countries are unavailable or very scarce for economic reasons,’ Ms Ploumen said. ‘So producing an adequate supply of affordable, safe and effective antidotes is a matter of life and death.’

To step up efforts to tackle snakebites, the minister will grant €460,000 in funding to the Global Snakebite Initiative (GSI) over the next 2 years. This scientific NGO, originally an Australian initiative, specialises in snakebite prevention, first aid and treatment. The Amsterdam-based Health Action International (HAI) runs the GSI’s secretariat. HAI has extensive experience in the field and is working with local organisations in countries including Zambia, Kenya and Uganda.

In addition to its donation, the Netherlands, which will be represented on the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board over the next 3 years, will support the GSI’s efforts to put snakebite back on WHO’s list of neglected tropical diseases. ‘And this isn’t just a matter of ensuring production of affordable antidotes,’ said the minister. ‘Better prevention, information campaigns and the collection of reliable data are also crucial in saving people’s lives.’ The Netherlands is also contributing in other ways to combating snakebites and their sometimes fatal consequences, for example through the scientific research of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden.