Nigeria: Why Scarcity Of Snakebite Vaccines (II)

Children are particularly vulnerable to snakebites. Source:

Continued from Wednesday.

While reaffirming that the only way to make ASV readily available and affordable at all times, was for Nigeria to begin local production of the drug, he expressed dismay that Nigeria was still depending on foreign countries for ASV to neutralise poison from very common snakes like viper, cobra and puff adder.
“The only time we can have enough ASV to meet our rising demand is when we produce it locally. That is the only time we can determine our fate.
“The partners are ready and willing to transfer the technology for the production of the ASV, but Nigeria has not been forthcoming,’’ he lamented.
He said that the producing processes were always delayed because the producing centres have specific periods allocated to manufacturing the Nigerian variant of the ASV.
“No matter how pressed we are, we must wait for that period. The only way to make the drug readily available and cheap is to produce locally,’’ he said.
Dr Abubakar Bala, the snakebite treatment officer at Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe, equally presented a gory picture of the helpless situation, and urged the federal government to take urgent measures to begin the local production of ASV.
“The persistent shortage of ASV has reached a crisis level. Very often, we have had to watch helplessly, while patients gasp for breath. We cannot continue like this.
“It is a critical situation but we are helpless. We want government to treat the issue as an emergency and a necessity. Government should equate the necessity of ASV with having an Army, Customs, Police and other security agencies.
“The drug should be treated as a security issue. Every developing country should have its anti-snake venom manufacturing company.
“The other option is to have a reliable supply channel, with government subsidising the cost to avoid major crisis like the types we suffer very often in Nigeria; in truth, we find it difficult and embarrassing to explain such situations to our patients.”
He advised government to look for a long-term solution to the scarcity by collaborating with private producers to manufacture the drug locally, via a technology transfer arrangement with Echitab producers in Costa Rica and the United Kingdom.
Dr Titus Dajel, medical superintendent, Zamko Comprehensive Medical Centre, spoke in the same vein.
“There are many victims of snakebites, but ASV is always in short supply. 
“Government must act fast because traditional healers have taken advantage of the situation to extort monies from victims, with a promise to heal them.
“What the herbalists are doing is trial and error. Most victims bleed in the brain because the venom is vicious. Traditional healers cannot tackle that because they concentrate on healing the wound,” he explained.
Dajel urged the Federal Government to treat snake bite as a national emergency and take urgent steps to make the anti-snake venom available.
“Importing is very dangerous, especially in view of the rising cost of the dollar. We must look into the possibility of domesticating the production of the drug to avoid constant crisis,” he said.
Rep Tim Golu, whose Pankshin/Kanam/Kanke Constituency in Plateau, is heavily hit by the snakebite menace, says he is “very uncomfortable’’ with the constant paucity of ASV, adding that the situation had cost many lives “in the past few weeks’’.
“We have lost many people in the past few weeks. Right now, we have several cases in Kanke, my village,’’ he said.
 Golu regretted that fake drugs were being sold to desperate victims, causing more deaths and deformities, and appealed to the federal, state and local governments to intervene by committing funds for the purchase of ASV.
 The legislator said that he had initiated a bill for the establishment of a National Centre for Research and Production of Snake Vaccines, and expressed optimism that the bill would soon be passed into law to offer relief to snakebite victims in the country.
 But Dr Adamu Atiku, a specialist in human medicine, says that the first step to establishing a factory for the local production of ASV must start with the Federal Government declaring snakebites as a national emergency in view of its prevalence.
 “When government does that, it will give special attention to the menace and adopt measures to curb it. One of such measures will naturally include the local production of ASV.
 “If the federal government demonstrates the political will to establish an ASV producing outfit, the National Assembly will be compelled to see the need for a special vote for that special project,’’ he stated.  
 With government paying more attention to the agricultural and mining sectors so as to diversify the economy, analysts say that Nigeria cannot afford to ignore a major menace associated with the two industries – rising prevalence of snake bites.
 They particularly note that the victims of the reptiles are active members of the society on the fields to actualise that goal, and urge government to urgently begin the local production of ASV to reduce its cost and ensure steady supply, so as to end the vicious cycle of snakebite deaths that had become a daily routine in the country.
Sheyin is of the News Agency of Nigeria.

Ephraims Sheyin