An acute scarcity of snake anti-venom drugs in Nigeria, has left 250 victims of snake bite in the last 3 weeks in Plateau and Gombe States dead.
A NAN correspondent who visited three snake treatment centres – General Hospital, Kaltungo, Ali Mega Pharmacy, Gombe and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State, was told that snake anti-venom drugs – Echitab Plus ICP polyvalent and Echitab G monovalent – had not been supplied to the country since August, throwing the treatment centres into crisis after the last vials were used up in the first week of October.
“We receive an average of 50 victims every day. Some arrive here in very critical conditions and we just have to watch them die because we are helpless,” Abubakar Abdullahi Aliyu, Managing Director, Aliyu Mega Pharmacy, said in Gombe.
Aliyu, who said snake bites are common during the harvest season, disclosed that the only available drug – Indian anti-venom – was not effective in the treatment of the bites from carpet vipers, the commonest poisonous snakes in the country.
“An average of six deaths are recorded daily. If you go to the snake treatment centre at the Kaltungo General Hospital, you will pity the victims; the lucky ones among them get supportive treatment, while many are left to fate since the drugs are not available.
“Between August and October, we received 750 victims. We were given 700 vials of the anti-venom on August 31, but we exhausted them before October. Many people are just dying. It is a major crisis,” he stated.
“We have tried the Indian anti-venom, but it does not elicit much response. Sometimes, we give six vials and more to a patient, but the effect will be minimal. If we had Echitab drugs, one dose is enough to cure a patient,” he said.
At the Snake Treatment Centre in Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe State, helpless patients were spotted gasping for breath while the medics watched helplessly.
Dr. Abubakar Ballah, the Snakebite Treatment Officer, said that the situation was “sad and scary”.
“We have a serious crisis here. In the last one week, 139 patients were admitted with 77 absconding when we appeared helpless, owing to the non-availability of the anti-snake venom drug.
“Some were unconscious when they were brought here. Sometimes, it is corpses that are brought to us.
“In the last few days, we have recorded 21 deaths. The figure is more because many of those that absconded were in bad shape; many others did not even bother to come here because of the fore-knowledge of lack of anti-venom in the centre.
“The last drug was used on October 13. We try to give vitamin K to the victims to enhance blood clotting in the absence of anti-venom because bites from the viper snakes cause bleeding which is difficult to control without anti-venom.
“It is a critical period, but we are helpless. This is why we call on the government to work with the Echitab Study Group to provide a lasting solution to this menace.
“Already, some criminals are faking the drug and selling it at N43,000 per vial, contrary to the original anti-snake venom sold by the Echitab Study Group at the cost of between N13,500 to N30,000.
Dr. Titus Dajel, the Medical Superintendent of Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko said;
“There are many victims, but we cannot help because there is no anti-snake venom available now. We have had more than 200 cases in the last one month, with many of them losing their lives.’
“The most effective drug is the Echitab anti-venom which is produced using the venom of snakes from Nigeria.
“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.
“It is the peak period of snake bites; farmers go to the bush to harvest crops and get attacked by snakes who are out of their holes because of the hot temperature.
“Some snakes go under heaps of rice gathered together preparatory for thrashing, in search of shelter from the scorching sun. Such snakes pounce on farmers when they open the heaps to start thrashing.
“Some snakes also move in groups in search of rats at yam farms where they clash with farmers harvesting the produce,” he said.