The London-based Wellcome Trust has announced an £80 million ($101.8 million) commitment in support of snakebite research and the distribution of antivenin.
Each year, between 81,000 and 138,000 individuals die as a result of snakebites, with an additional 400,000 affected by life-changing injuries. Most antivenin is produced by injecting horses with venom, an outdated approach lacking modern standards of safety and production. The world currently produces less than half the antivenin it needs, and in many regions much of the supply is considered ineffective. Those most affected by snakebites live in rural, low-income communities in Africa, Asia, and South America that lack adequate access to effective antivenin, and little has been done to develop strategies to address the problem.
The investment by Wellcome will support efforts to make the production of antivenin better, safer, and cheaper; the development of innovative evidence-based treatments; and advocacy aimed at raising awareness of snakebite as a global health priority. To that end, the World Health Organization recently announced that it will work to reduce snakebite death and disability by half by 2030.
"Our experience show us that with fast access to healthcare facilities, quality antivenoms, and good clinical management, it is possible to prevent people from dying from snakebites," said Julien Potet, policy advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières. "In our hospitals in Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, fewer than 1 percent of people bitten by snakes die when they have access to the right services and effective antivenoms. Now that the World Health Organization's new strategy calls for deaths and disability from snakebite to be cut in half by 2030, and with financial contributions being made to back up this plan to ensure access to quality care and antivenoms, we can finally start meaningfully tackling this disease that affects the poorest of the poor."