By Opija Raduk
People in rural parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia stand a higher risk of getting bitten by a snake more than natural disasters or diseases like malaria or tuberculosis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that about 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes every year, resulting in an estimated 1.8-2.7 million cases of envenoming and 130,000 deaths. Some 400,000 people end up with long-term disabilities such as blindness, disfigurement or amputation.
High risk groups are poor rural dwellers, agricultural workers, herders, fishermen, hunters, working children-aged 10–14 years, people living in poorly constructed housing, and people with limited access to education and healthcare.
Most victims are farmers who cross paths with venomous snakes as they tend to their crops and livestock. Many never make it to a medical facility to be counted, because they live too far away or cannot afford the crippling cost of medical treatment — which means that the real death toll from snakebite could be much higher than estimated.
In March 2017, the WHO classified snakebite as a neglected tropical disease of the highest priority. Last week, during the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly, the WHO launched an ambitious roadmap to reduce snakebite-induced death and disability.
The aim is to halve the numbers of deaths and cases of disability due to snakebite envenoming over the next 12 years through a programme that targets affected communities and their health systems, and by ensuring access to safe, effective treatment through increased cooperation, collaboration and partnership at all levels.
Given the importance of prevention, improved community education and empowerment and effective first response, the strategy commits to engaging communities to achieve these goals.
WHO will also work with countries to strengthen health systems towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and its related targets including improving health and well-being and reducing inequity.
A central objective will be needed to ensure access to safe, effective and affordable treatment such as anti-venoms and ancillary medical care. Improved and strengthened production, supply and distribution of life-saving antivenoms and other commodities needed to treat snakebites will be prioritized.
WHO will also work to encourage research on new treatments, diagnostics and health device breakthroughs that can improve treatment outcomes for victims and hasten recovery. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org