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Snakebite treatment stocks in short supply

September 7, 2015

Doctors Without Borders has warned that the world could run out of anti-venom serum by next year. Manufacturers have ceased production and existing stocks are set to expire.

Schwarze Mamba
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The Paris-based medical charity said Monday #link:https://www.msf.org.za/msf-publications/global-health-community-slithers-away-snakebite-crisis-antivenom-runs-out:in a press release# that a looming shortage of one of the most effective treatments for snakebites could risk the lives of tens of thousands, mostly in the developing world.

Existing stockpiles of the anti-venom Fav-Afrique produced by Sanofi Pasteur will expire in June. The company stopped producing the anti-venom last year and has since switched to making a rabies treatment at its facilities.

"We are now facing a real crisis," Dr. Gabriel Alcoba, the charity's snakebite adviser, said in a statement.

A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur said the pharmaceutical was driven out of the market by competitors selling cheaper products and that they announced in 2010 they would stop making anti-venom.

"It's very strange that [health officials] are only realizing this problem five years later," Alain Bernal, a Sanofi Pasteur spokesman, told the AP news agency.

He said the company has offered to transfer the anti-venom technology to others but "nothing has materialized yet."

About 5 million people are bitten by snakes every year, including 100,000 deaths and several hundred thousand others who suffer amputations or other disabilities. Treatment typically costs $250 to $500 (224.50 euros to 448 euros).

Poisonous snakes threaten developing countries

Schlangengift Schlange Gift Melken
There are about 600 different types of venomous snakes in the world. Not all bites are fatal but most require medical treatment.Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Berry

"There are 600 different types of venomous snake and their bites produce different symptoms," the group said a statement last month. "Not all are fatal but they can lead to complications such as amputation, kidney failure or chronic neurological disorders. Yet it remains an all-too neglected public health issue."

The medical charity has urged the World Health Organization to play "a leading role" in solving the problem and criticized the UN health agency for labeling snakebites as a neglected condition and for failing to create a formal program to address the issue.

jar/kms (AP, MSF)