Statistics from the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Comprehensive health center Zamko, in Langtang North local government area, Plateau State in North Central Nigeria, indicate that about 150-200 people are bitten by snakes monthly. This number further increases in periods where peasant farmers go out to plant or harvest their crops.
At a time when agriculture as an economic activity is being encouraged within the country, the lives of peasant farmers is under threat from menacing snake bites and the unavailability of a very important drug meant to cure victims of these snake bites.
According to the medical superintendent of the facility, Dr. Titus Dajel, the Echitab anti-snake venom which is sold between 26 and 30 thousand Naira per vial has become scarce in the country. This, has resulted in an increase in death of patients in the hospital.
“The number of victims has not really changed but what makes it news now, is the scarcity of the anti-snake venom and that has increased the mortality very seriously,” he said.
Dr. Dajel cited the high foreign exchange rates among the factors responsible for this scarcity.
“The foreign exchange is responsible for the scarcity of anti snake venom and the entire country has run out it completely. Those that are used currently are the ones being made in and for India and are not working for our snake bite treatment. The company that supplies the drug either has challenges with foreign exchange or made supply and payment has not been made”.
He said although the victims do not die in the hospital, they have been forced to leave and seek alternative medication elsewhere.
“If we have the anti-snake venom, out of the 100-150 patients, we rarely loose at least, 1 or 2 patients. But with the lack of anti-snake venom, a lot of people have died and why I can’t give you straight figures is because most of them do not die in the hospital.
EXPLAINED: Why Nigeria Still Imports Anti-Snake Venom
“There was a research in Nigeria where a anti-snake venom was produced in n Nigeria, after that research in 2006, the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo gave approval for the production of the anti-snake venom and he wanted the money to be sourced from the then millennium development, but that was not done and so after that, Echitab and Nigerians relied on the anti-snake venom produced in United Kingdom and Costa Rica in South America.”
The increased number of deaths as a result of this development is counter productive, not just to families of victims but to an economy of a nation that has returned to agriculture as a major source of its economy and a means of livelihood is encouraged.
It is hoped that stakeholders will rise to the occasion by making OK no the needed commitment to ensure the provision of anti-snake venom to victims of snake bites, if not free, at a subsidized rate.