Uganda: Who Adds Snakebite Among Neglected Tropical Diseases

24-year old migrant harvest worker Workey Mekonen, receives an infusion of antivenom in the MSF clinic in Abdurafi, Ethiopia. She was bitten on her forehead by a small snake, while sleeping on the ground in a shed in the farmlands.

Kampala — The World Health organisation (WHO) has urged member states to prioritise venomous snakebites following its re-addition to the list of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that mostly thrive among poor populations.

WHO had added snakebite, which is estimated to seriously injure more than 1.8 million people across the world, to the list of NTDs in 2009, but it was later removed in 2013, without explanation.

The WHO disease prevention and control officer in Uganda, Dr Miriam Nanyunja, said all the 194 member states who assented to the resolution in May have been asked to give more attention to snakebite by increasing its awareness and treatment.

"It is a wide range of actions, including providing anti-venoms in public health facilities, educating people, and training health workers on the rightful treatment of snakebites, among others," she told Daily Monitor yesterday.

As a move to implement the WHO recommendations, the Ministry of Health has since committed to start having antivenom drugs used to treat certain poisonous bites and stings in public health facilities, especially at the lower level.

Ms Betty Nabatte a vector control officer in the Health ministry, said: "Most of the antivenoms here come from India and are not snake-specific, which makes them ineffective. We [the ministry] also hope to start training all health workers on how to handle snake envenom."

Cases of snakebite

In Uganda, a snakebite research carried out by Health Action International (HAI), a global health non-governmental orgnisation, in partnership with the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS-Uganda), showed a total of 593 snakebites cases in more than 144 health facilities were reported in six months.

The research, that was carried out between October 2017 and March 2018, also indicated that 92 per cent of the healthcare workers have not received any training in treating snakebites, while only 4 per cent of the facilities stock antivenom at the moment.

However, the total number of snakebite cases, as well as deaths recorded in Uganda on an annual basis, remains unknown as no research has been conducted and a 70 per cent of the same is estimated to go unreported.

Through their snakebite programmme, Mr Royjan Taylor, the HAI snakebite regional coordinator, says they are building capacity and advocate for attention on snakebites and community.

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