May 4, 2010

WHO Introduces Website Dedicated To Snake Venom

In an attempt to cut down on the 100,000 annual deaths caused by snake venom, the World Health Organization launched a website Tuesday that contains a database of approved antivenoms to treat people who suffer venomous bites.

The antivenoms -- antidotes developed from venom -- can prevent serious disability or even death, but WHO says many are inappropriate and have led to a loss of confidence among doctors and patients, especially in tropical countries.

"The regions that are most in need are Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia," said Ana Padilla, a snake venom expert at WHO.

Apart from South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania, most Sub-Saharan African countries do not have the necessary tools to identify snake poisons and the proper labs to produce sufficient amounts of antivenom, Padilla told The Associated Press.

In Asia, the greatest needs are in Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Laos.

Padilla noted that the Americas are in a better situation. Even the poorer countries in Latin America have their own tools and labs.

WHO reports that an estimated five million people are bitten by snakes every year, half of them venomous. Besides the 100,000 deaths each year, as many as 300,000 people suffer paralysis, need amputation, or have kidney failure.

Most victims of snake bites are children, women, and farmers in poor rural communities where medical help is scarce.

"Most deaths and serious consequences are preventable by making anti-venom more widely available," said Lembit Rago, a WHO coordinator for medicine safety.

Snakebites are neglected as a public health issue in many tropical countries where some of the most deadly snakes are found, said Rago. As a result, producers were increasing prices of anti-venom or simply stopping production and development altogether.

According to the WHO, when antivenom is available, it is often untested and used for the wrong type of snakebite.

The website is designed to guide the use of antivenoms and help build up stocks in the places that need them most, as well as help ordinary people identify poisonous snakes that are found in the area where people live.

The site has a database of "all 263 venomous snakes by picture," said Rago.


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