Snakebite gaining momentum – access to quality antivenoms a top priority
One of today’s most neglected health problems, snakebite-induced death and disability, impacts on the lives of thousands, mostly the rural poor, and contributes to multiple issues that challenge subsistence agriculture and the overall quality of life in many settings. WHO has for several years advocated for greater attention to the issue, including the need for a broader public health approach to tackling snakebite envenoming that focuses on prevention, education and management. In addition, WHO has developed a large body of guidelines, in particular on the quality manufacture of antivenoms. To that end, and to promote the availability of quality antivenoms for purchase by procurement agencies, public health officials and patients, WHO has called on manufacturers of antivenoms for Africa to submit their products for WHO assessment. Upon finalization of the assessment, products found to meet acceptable quality standards will be made available on WHO’s website.
More recently, civil society has rung the alarm on the problem, largely because one of the last manufacturers of multi-use antivenoms closed its production line last year due to lack of market incentives. The issue is growing in profile and there is increasing momentum for the international community to tackle the challenge through greater policy discussion and resources.
The Kofi Annan Foundation, one of the organizations that have taken an interest in snake bites as a public health problem, convened a meeting in late December 2016 with representatives from the scientific community, public health organizations, civil society and philanthropic institutions in Geneva. From the discussions and conclusions of the meeting, a number of potential actionable next steps were identified. The most important and pressing of these are:
The Need for a Focal Point:
So far there has been a lack of a focal point to coordinate a global effort to address snakebite. Participants at the meeting agreed that this focal point would ideally be located within WHO, assisted by key stakeholders. The initial step must therefore focus on mobilizing the resources necessary to establish such a focal point and coordination mechanism. Once established, this focal point position can serve as a nexus that brings together stakeholders to craft a framework for moving forward, the roadmap for action.
A Roadmap for Action:
The December meeting made it clear that there are a range of perspectives and solutions on snakebite. These need to be consolidated into a clear and accessible roadmap that outlines solutions in both the short and long term, including time frames and budget requirements, and provides a clear product that can be used in advocacy. The roadmap should include inputs from the full range of stakeholders. This roadmap will empower a call to action. The roadmap will provide a needed framework to both leverage and maximise the international community’s support for countries, communities and people affected by snakebite.