As anti-venom drug soars, snakebite victims flood hospitals

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As the scorching heat forces reptiles out of their holes into bushes, farms, roads and homes, victims of snakebites are flooding treatment centres across the country.

According to reports, states worst hit include Gombe, Plateau, Borno, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Bauchi, with herders, farmers and rural dwellers mostly the victims.

Reports by NAN correspondent, who visited some snake treatment centres, found that most of the patients were on the floor with medics complaining that facilities were being overstretched.

The situation of the victims appeared worsened by the sharp rise in the cost of the usually imported Anti-Snake Venom (ASV), following the high cost of foreign exchange.

With a vial of the Echitab drugs – the brand of ASV that cures bites from snakes in Nigeria – going for more than 55,000, stakeholders have heightened calls on the Federal Government to support the Echitab Study Group in Nigeria to produce the vaccine locally to lower production cost.

At Snakebites Treatment and Research Centre, Kaltungo in Gombe State, Dr Sulaiman Mohammed, its Principal Medical Officer, said that about 300 patients had been admitted from January to date.

He attributed the sharp rise in the number of cases to the hot weather.

“The heat is at its peak; this period is usually the peak season of snakebites,” he said.

He said that some were treated and discharged while four deaths had been recorded.

Giving a breakdown, he said that 69 patients were admitted in January while 79 came in February.

According to him, more than 135 have been admitted in March with the figures increasing by the day.

“The figures are usually high in March which is the onset of rainy season; on the average, we receive a daily average of nine victims or more.”

He said that the victims were mostly peasant farmers and cattle rearers because “they normally enter bushy areas”.

According to him, most of the patients come from the North-Eastern States to access the treatment.

He explained that most of the victims were bitten by carpet vipers, “the snake that bites without warning; once you are close to it, it will strike”.

“Other snakes like puff adder and cobra will show you the sign and will not bite unless provoked. If you are smart, you leave the place quickly,” he explained.

He said the centre currently has some ASV supplied to it by the North East Development Commission (NEDC).

“We received 2,000 vials from NEDC which we give free to patients. It should last for sometime.

“Last year a vial was N40,000. It is far beyond that now,” he said.

He listed some of the challenges the centre was confronted with, to include inadequate manpower as the number of patients far outnumber the staff strength.

Another challenge was the late arrival of patients for medical attention.

“Some victims spend days at home taking herbs and only remember the hospital when the condition becomes critical. Most times they arrive too late as the venom would have gone deep into the system.

“Such patients take considerable number of ASV vials unlike those that come early that may require just one or two vials.

Snakebite

“Once the patient comes early, especially the very day he was bitten, he will get better within five days and be discharged.

“If a person bitten by a snake, especially carpet viper, decides to stay at home for some days before coming to the hospital, blood will be coming out in all the opening in his body.

“If he comes late, besides the ASV, he will definitely need blood and the cost of taking care of such patients will be much,” he said.

He regretted that herbalists, who know that herbs will not work, still keep the ignorant victims just to exploit them.

He appealed to rural dwellers, especially farmers and herders, to always wear rain boots and hand gloves to protect themselves against snakebites.

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