It is high time but welcome news that Kenya will (hopefully) soon have access to locally produced snake anti-venom following the inauguration of the Kenya Institute of Primate Research (KIPRE) Board of Directors, announced by Health Secretary Susan Nakhumicha earlier this week.
Formerly known as the Institute of Primate Research, KIPRE operates under the Ministry of Health’s State Department for Public Health and Professional Standards.
“The Institute is expected to produce locally based snake antivenom to address the issues of snakebites that is a major problem in East African and Africa”, Nakhumicha said at the inauguration.
Death and disability
Figures vary but it is estimated that worldwide 5.4 million people are bitten by snakes every year of which 140,000 die and 400,000 left with permanent disability.
Data from the Ministry of Health suggest that approximately 15,000 people in Kenya suffer snakebites each year of which some 1,000 die. 100 people a month have a limb amputated after being bitten venomous snakes.
Many people die in Kenya from snake bites because they are unable to get to a clinic that stores the anti-venom in time to be saved after receiving a poisonous bite and some people arrive at a clinic in time to be saved only to find that it has run out of anti-venom.
If that were not scandalous enough, much of the anti-venom that is available in Kenya has been found to be ineffective against the type of poisonous snakes found in the country.
In 2017 a study by the Snake Bite Research & Intervention Centre revealed that none of the six anti-venoms stored in Kenya at the time were effective against the bite of all the poisonous snakes found in East Africa.
One allegation has been that snakebite anti-venom used in Kenya was bought from India to save money. It was perhaps effective against snakes found in India but not so for poisonous snakes in Kenya.
Puff adders the main culprits
Puff adders are the main cause of injuries and deaths in Kenya. Nocturnal, a puff adder relies on its camouflage to avoid detection because it does not move fast whereas most snake species will slither away to avoid people.
Puff adder venom causes severe pain, swelling, blistering and in many cases severe tissue damage.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is committed to halve snakebites by 2030 and officially classes snakebites as a neglected tropical disease.
Kenya Forum readers may also like to see:
Snake bite in Kenya, a preventable tragedy (June 3, 2013)
Snake bites: Gobal concern, scandal in Kenya (May 26, 2018)