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How poor funding fuels snakebite related deaths in Nigeria

By Hassan Zaggi

Inadequate supply of antisnake venom due to poor funding by both the federal and states governments has been identified as one of major factors that fuels snakebite related deaths in Nigeria.

The federal government is said to be providing some funding for snake control, but, it is not commensurate to what is needed to tackle the heavy burden of snakebite in the country.

Six states of Gombe, Taraba, Bauchi, Plateau, Adamawa and Benue are said to have the highest prevalence of snakebite in Nigeria.

In 2019, an estimated 15,926 people were said to be admitted in health facilities as a result of snake bite in the country.

On the other hand, in the same 2019, an estimated 280 deaths were recorded as a result of the snakebite.

Speaking at a 2-day media dialogue on Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) control in Nigeria, organised by the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information, in Ibadan, recently, the Deputy Director in charge of Snakebite Envenoming Program, Fatai Oyediran, disclosed that late releases of budgeted funds meant for the control of snakebite also hampers activities tailored towards controlling and preventing the menace which ultimately leads to preventable deaths in the country.

The expert also identified inadequate partner’s support, low awareness, lack of political will, especially at the states level; inadequate data collection/collation in states, inadequate training for health care workers, poor research funding, and non production of Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) locally, as other factors militating against the control of snake bite in the country.

He, however, applauded the World Health Organisation (WHO), N-SRIC and the UNICEF for their support to Nigeria over the years.

Oyediran, therefore, appealed to the UNICEF and WHO to include Antisnake venom among drugs being procured/supplied alongside other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) drugs.

He recommended the adoption of the current reporting template put together by his department to report snakebite on monthly/quarterly basis or include snakebite on the NTDs reporting form; partners to support the federal government in conducting operational research/snakebite burden survey, support towards improved data generation/monitoring and evaluation and advocated that some NGDOs to consider snakebite envenoming activities in their plan for support, especially, awareness creation, policy/guidelines development, Research and Development (R&D) and many others.

The expert stressed that: “Snakebite is an underestimated and ignored public health problem that causes considerable illness, disabilities, death, and socioeconomic hardship to poor populations living in rural areas, where access to life-saving antivenom is poor.

“There is an urgent need to acquire knowledge of the epidemiology of snakebite envenomation nationwide and to promote public health policies directed at improving the treatment and prevention of snakebite envenomation.

“More importantly, all efforts must be geared towards commencement of Anti Snake Venom (ASV) production in Nigeria soonest.”

Speaking on how to control snakebite, the expert encouraged the planting of known species of plants that repel snakes; warned against dumping of refuse near homes as this is likely to attract rodents and arthropods on which snakes feed and encouraged keeping of pets such as cats that eat rodents.

In order to prevent snakes, Oyediran encouraged rearing of animals and birds that are known to eat snakes, close -up all unnecessary holes and set traps to suspected holes in and around the house, eliminate snake habitat and hiding places (wood piles, garden debris, cracks and holes) in living houses and keep rodents (rats and mice) and other household pests which snakes prey on under control.

He also recommended the erection of snake proof fences 2-3 ft high wire meshes, which he said, have been found to be effective, use of snake repellants (Naphthalene can be spread round the perimeter of the house) and that in the event of snake threat, make noise that can scare off snake.

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