Something is very wrong in this world when for these companies saving African lives is bad business, leading them to stop the production of the most effective antidote against snake venom because it is considered to be economically unviable.
The last batches of the Fav-Afriqué antidote will reach their expiry date in June 2016 and from then on those who suffer an snake attack will have fewer chances of survival.
In 2014 the French laboratory Sanofi Pasteur stopped making the antidote for “business reasons”, with a cost between 200 and 400 dollars, the only effective multi-purpose against bite poisoning from the ten most dangerous snakes that live on the African continent.
Alain Bernal, vice-president of the company, stated that although Sanofi Pasteur aims to balance public health and profit, business prevails. This is because “we live in an economic environment and we have to be realistic”. “It’s a hard world”, added the executive.
The importance of Fav-Afriqué is that it covers a full spectrum that encompasses toxins from both elapids, among them mambas and cobras, and viperids, a family that includes vipers.
Consequently, there is a greater chance of avoiding death without the prior difficulty of identifying the type of serpent.
There are around 600 species of venomous snakes, and about 50 to 70 percent of their bites are poisonous. To be saved, victims must be treated immediately with a suitable antidote serum.
Among the most dangerous snakes in Africa are the Black and the Green Mamba. The former, more than two metres long, is the fastest and most venomous species. It is very aggressive and moves at a speed of up to 12 kilometres an hour. The Green is up to four metres long.
The latter is up to two metres six centimetres long and its fangs are the biggest of any snake.
The Puff Adder is up to one and a half metres in length and is one of the most feared species in Equatorial Africa because of its slow neurotoxin-acting potent venom, while the Rhinoceros reaches a length of little more than one metre and the Nocturne about eighty centimetres.
Cobras represent another great danger, mainly the Spitting Cobra, which can measure up to one metre fifteen centimetres long and is characterised by launching its highly active neurotoxin-acting venom, from a distance of two to three metres.
The Egyptian Cobra at more than two and a half metres is also very aggressive.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers snake bites a neglected problem.
Every year at a global level there are five million attacks which cause two and a half million poisonings. As a result, about 100,000 people die annually, another 400,000 remain disabled or disfigured and around eight thousand must undergo amputations.
The venom is composed of a complex mixture of proteins that can act as neurotoxins, which cause serious disturbances to the nervous system; hemotoxins, that damage the blood; cytotoxins, that affect the tissues as well as bungarotoxins and other substances that attack the body in different ways.
The neurotoxins are stored in gland at the back of the reptile’s head and escape through ducts that open from within grooves or channels in the teeth of the upper mandible.
In Africa alone one million bites are reported annually, half of which need medical assistance.
The average person who suffers a bite is unable to see or identify the animal, which makes it difficult to find the antidote, and the lack of timely treatment results in nearly 30,000 deaths.
“Today we are faced with a critical lack of suitable, safe and effective antidotes” acknowledged Doctor Rago Lembit, head of the WHO programme against venomous snake bites.
Even though it is only now becoming critical, this problem simmered for years, stated David Warrell, a specialist in tropical medicine at the University of Oxford and consultant for the WHO.
In fact, snake bite victims increased over the last decade in Africa.
The expert warned that although the WHO published guidelines for the manufacture of antidotes, there still lacks a programme against snake bites to fight 17 other tropical diseases, like dengue and sleeping sickness.
Sanofi Pasteur did not only stop making Fav-Afriqué, but showed reluctance to give other laboratories the technology to make it, so that the crisis was made worse, according to a recent criticism from Gabriel Alcoba, an expert from the organisation Médecins sans Frontières (MSF).
“How is it possible that governments, pharmaceutical companies and international health organisations disappear when we need them most?”, lamented the specialist. (PL). Photos: Pixabay
(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)