While St. Patrick, the Christian missionary supposedly rid Ireland of snakes during the fifth century A.D., “Nigel Monaghan, who has trawled through vast collections of fossil and other records of Irish animals, has found no evidence of snakes ever existing in Ireland.” The rest of the world, of course, does not rest as easily, and therefore, “On June 9th, 2017 WHO categorized snakebite envenomation into the Category A of the Neglected Tropical Diseases.”
The World Health Organization explains that, “Snakebite envenoming is a potentially life-threatening disease that typically results from the injection of a mixture of different toxins (“venom”) following the bite of a venomous snake. Envenoming can also be caused by having venom sprayed into the eyes by certain species of snakes that have the ability to spit venom as a defense measure.” The organization notes that our of over 3,000 snake species globally, 250 are medically important because of their harmful venom. These can be found in 160 countries.
In preparation for the World Health Assembly, “the 142nd session of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board has recommended a resolution on snakebite envenoming to the 71st World Health Assembly, setting the scene for its possible adoption in May 2018.” The resolution calls on all countries to take definitive steps to stop the death, disability and suffering that snakebite inflicts on many of the poorest and most vulnerable of the world’s people.
A recent WHO report notes that, “As for other neglected tropical diseases, estimation of global morbidity, disability and mortality due to snakebite envenoming is problematic.” Rough estimates of the burden of snakebite include –
- 8 million to 2.7 million cases of snakebite envenoming per year
- 81 000 to 138 000 deaths per year
- 400,000 people a year face permanent disabilities, including blindness, extensive scarring and contractures, restricted mobility and amputation following snakebite envenoming
Mapping is a first important step for countries attempting to tackle this neglected disease. Sri Lanka was able develop snakebite risk maps to identify snakebite hotspots and cold spots in the country. A national survey in India found that, “Snakebite deaths occurred mostly in rural areas (97%), were more common in males (59%) than females (41%), and peaked at ages 15–29 years (25%) and during the monsoon months of June to September.” Costa Rica is using geographical information systems to identify populations in need of improved accessibility to anti-venom treatment for snakebite envenoming.
As Jose Mar?a Gutierrez and colleagues stress, “the need for incorporation of the proposed snakebite initiatives within the general struggle against all the NTDs will result in a significant and more logistically efficient reduction of human suffering.” This can be accomplished by having snakebite become part of the existing unified strategy for several NTDs that, “simplifies drug distribution, reduces duplication, and lessens some of the demands on health systems and staff.”
Thus with a unified approach we can hope to drive out snakes, worms, and other parasites from the homes, communities and countries of those suffering from the neglected diseases of poverty.