Snakebite: From science to society

14 Jun 2018

One of our thematic priorities is the niche part of neglected tropical diseases where overlaps and intersections with other health and wider circumstances hinder progress in global health.

In contrast to Ebola, malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, most governments and international health organisations do not recognise snakebite as a public health challenge.

This is despite the fact that up to 138,000 people a year are killed as a result of snakebite and as many as 500,000 are left permanently injured or disabled.

Collaboration on snakebite activities

Snakebite envenoming is one of the neglected tropical diseases which RSTMH is focusing on this year. We have planned a number of activities to highlight the impact of snakebite on people’s lives and gain support for what we, as the global health community, can do to alleviate the suffering it causes.

We will be working with anti-venom researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as our members working in the field with affected communities, who are often some of the poorest and marginalised people across Africa and Asia.

Film on snakebite and disability

First, we have produced a film which summarises the current problems of snakebite, how it links with disability, as well as the socio-economic impacts of snakebite on families and the challenges and progress being made to produce effective and affordable anti-venoms.

We will be screening this short film at our Annual Meeting in London in September, as part of a panel debate on the issue.

You can register for our Annual Meeting now.

Minutes to Die film screening

Second, we are working with our colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to screen the film Minutes to Die.

The film, directed by James Reid and supported by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation, gives an eye-opening account of snakebite in the developing world.

Minutes to Die highlights the psychological impact of snakebite on communities, as well as the current anti-venom crisis caused by governments and health ministers in snakebite-endemic countries de-prioritising anti-venoms in favour of purchasing low cost drugs for other diseases and pharmaceutical companies pulling out of the market or significantly scaling back production.

It’s a call to the tropical medicine and global health community to act now.

Sign up to our newsletter to stay up to date about when the screening will take place.

WHO gives snakebite more visibility

Third, we’re delighted at the positive steps being made by WHO to give much-needed attention to the issue of snakebite. After having previously removed it, WHO has, once again, added snakebite envenoming to its list of neglected tropical diseases.

A meeting in late 2016 highlighted the need for a roadmap on snakebite. The roadmap takes on perspectives from a range of stakeholders and outlines solutions in both the short and long term, including time frames and budget requirements.

The roadmap is also working towards strategies to raise awareness among governments and other actors to increase visibility, as well as plans for obtaining resources. We’ve invited one of our expert members to write us an editorial for our journal, International Health, on this topic.

More recently, at this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, a resolution on snakebite was passed. Advocates of the issue hope this will lead to more research and access to life-saving anti-venoms for those in desperate need of treatment.

The hope is that this new resolution means that snakebite will feature on national and international health agendas, which in turn will put pressure on governments to make commitments to tackle the problem.

Snakebite: From science to society

Finally, we’re proud to be a partner of the Snakebite: From science to society event, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center in cooperation with Leiden University, VU University Amsterdam, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Queensland University.

The meeting is taking place on 20-21 June in Leiden in the Netherlands. It brings together science, government, industry, and societal and humanitarian aid organisations, and aims to take the first steps in developing solutions for the urgent issues concerning snakebite in the tropics.

To find out more about the meeting, visit the Naturalis website.  You can also follow the meeting online via @Naturalis_Sci on Twitter, Snakebite, from science to society on Facebook or the hashtags #NaturalisSnakebite and #UniteAgainstSnakebite.