Lack of antivenom pushes snakebite patients to alternative treatment

By Lilian Kaivilu

At least 68 percent of snakebite victims in Kenya access initial treatment from traditional healers.

According to Health Action International (HAI), by so doing, patients risk worsening their situations and wasting more time before getting help from a health facility.

In Kilifi County, for instance, over 25 percent of health facilities reported that half of their snakebite patients had initially visited a traditional healer before coming to their facility. This is according to the Snakebite Incidents, Response & Antivenom Supply (Kilifi County, Kenya) report published in November 2018 by HAI. The report further indicates that ten percent of the respondents said they lacked antivenom at their facilities, citing financial reasons for the stock out.

A stone believed to treat snakebites among Kitui residents
A stone believed to treat snakebites among Kitui residents

In Kitui County, locals believe in a magic stone that is said to heal snakebites. The black stone is available in most local shops, retailing between Sh20 and Sh50.

The survey conducted in Kilifi County, Kenya, between November 2017 and February 2018 by Health Action International paints a grim picture of the effects of snakebites in the area.

Out of the 103 health facilities that responded to the survey, only seven percent of health facilities treated patients with antivenom. Eighty eight percent reported that the health facility had no antivenom in stock at the time. While admitting that majority of the patients could not afford out-of-pocket costs payable at the health facilities, the survey indicates that such facilities still expected the patients to pay for health facility registration and supportive treatment (such as painkillers and fluids).

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that about 5.4 million people across the globe are victims of snakebites each year. Over 400,000 others remain with permanent disabilities while between 81,000   and 138,000 die from snakebites annually. In 2017, WHO recognised poisoning from snakes as a neglected tropical disease.

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