Snakebite anti-venom may run out by next year

The last batch of an essential snakebite anti-venom is due to expire in June 2016. A problem that may lead to “senseless death and disability,” Doctors Without Borders says.

The Washington Post reports that Sanofi, a french drug company, halted production of the anti-venom, known as Fav-Afrique, after competitors developed cheaper, and often less-effective treatments. Fav-Afrique is the only known treatment for the venom of a handful of Sub-Saharan African snakes. There will be no replacement for at least two years.

Despite little attention from global doctors, Doctors Without Borders says that snakebites are among the most neglected public health issues. Estimates say that approximately 5 million people are bitten by snakes. Of that 5 million, 100,000 will die of the bites, while at least 400,000 will have a permanent disability or dis-figuration. Doctors Without Borders hope that Sanofi will relaunch production of the base material, so that anti-venom can be refined. Sanofi has offered their technology to other competitors.

The anti-venom itself can counter the effects of 10 of the most dangerous snake species in Africa. The snakes belong to two families, the smooth-scaled, head-shielded Elapidae, and the long-fanged, Viperidea.

The shortage of Fav-Afrique is just a small part of a much larger crisis of the availability of safe and affordable treatments in Asia and Africa.  Since many victims of these snakebites are in rural or poverty-stricken regions, Doctors Without Borders refer to the anti-venom shortage as a crisis of invisible victims.

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