Snakebite remains one of the world’s most neglected public health emergencies, says MSF, with “worryingly little interest in the issue”. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that five million people are bitten by snakes each year. Some 100,000 die and 400,000 disabled or disfigured.
“We are now facing a real crisis,” Dr Gabriel Alcoba, the charity’s snake bite adviser, said. “Imagine how frightening it must be to be bitten by a snake – to feel the pain and venom spread through your body – knowing it may kill you and there is no treatment available or that you can’t afford to pay for it?”
Sanofi Pasteur, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, from June next year, the company’s stock of an anti-venom will be exhausted and no more will be produced. Treating bites from snakes like mambas, vipers and cobras just does not make sufficient profit, Sanofi Pasteur said. Abdulrazaq Habib, a professor of infectious and tropical diseases at Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria, told The Independent: “Fav-Afrique [anti-venom] is no longer being manufactured so vulnerable farmers will lose their lives or limbs.”
Professor David Warrell, international director of the Royal College of Physicians and principal fellow of the Australian Venom Research Unit at Melbourne University, told The Independent: “What should be done? Shame WHO, international funding bodies, governments and the tropical medicine community for ignoring this problem. We must deal with this.”
Julien Potet, MSF’s neglected diseases adviser, said a solution should have been found “to continue producing this until another product is available”.
Alain Bernal, a Sanofi Pasteur vice-president and spokesman,said: “When we released the product the demand dropped six fold. We were facing competition from the emerging world – their cost price was completely different from ours – so when your demand drops, you have to revisit your model. The same technology is used to produce rabies anti-serum which is a constant demand and has very few producers. We went for that. We are a private company, the research we do we self-finance. If we don’t make some profit we can’t research. We need money. We try to balance public health and profit but we live in an economic environment and we have to be realistic. It’s a tough world.”