A report by the News Agency of Nigeria has revealed that a scarcity of anti venom has led to a spike in the number of deaths from snakebites in Plateau and Gombe states.
Figures from three snake treatment centres – General Hospital, Kaltungo, Ali Mega Pharmacy, Gombe and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State show 250 confirmed deaths in just the last three weeks.
A correspondent from NAN who visited the treatment met a desperate situation with some of the victims in critical conditions and the doctors helpless without the means to alleviate their suffering.
Abubakar Aliyu, Managing Director, Aliyu Mega Pharmacy who spoke with NAN in Gombe said that more than 70 victims some of whom come from Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi, Borno and Plateau States have died in the last three weeks no thanks to a lack of anti venom. He said:
"We receive an average of 50 victims every day. Some arrive here in very critical conditions and we just have to watch them die because we are helpless.
"An average of six deaths are recorded daily. If you go to the snake treatment centre at the Kaltungo General Hospital, you will pity the victims; the lucky ones among them get supportive treatment, while many are left to fate since the drugs are not available.
"Between August and October, we received 750 victims. We were given 700 vials of the anti-venom on August 31, but we exhausted them before October. Many people are just dying.
It is a major crisis." At the Snake Treatment Centre, Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe State
Abubakar Ballah, the Snakebite Treatment Officer described the situation as "sad and scary."
"We have a serious crisis here. In the last one week, 139 patients were admitted with 77 absconding when we appeared helpless, owing to the non-availability of the anti-snake venom drug.
"Some were unconscious when they were brought here. Sometimes, it is corpses that are brought to us. "In the last few days, we have recorded 21 deaths. The figure is more because many of those that absconded were in bad shape; many others did not even bother to come here because of the fore-knowledge of lack of anti-venom in the centre.
"The last drug was used on October 13. We try to give vitamin K to the victims to enhance blood clotting in the absence of anti-venom because bites from the viper snakes cause bleeding which is difficult to control without anti-venom.
"It is a critical period, but we are helpless. This is why we call on the government to work with the Echitab Study Group to provide a lasting solution to this menace.
"Already, some criminals are faking the drug and selling it at N43,000 per vial, contrary to the original anti-snake venom sold by the Echitab Study Group at the cost of between N13,500 to N30,000.
"What we must avoid is a situation where desperate people produce fake drugs. We must work toward an effective handling and supply of the drug to guarantee quality and ensure that only genuine drugs are supplied to the treatment centres.”
The situation was no less dire at the Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, with Titus Dajel, the Medical Superintendent, stating that more than 200 patients were admitted in October alone.
"There are many victims, but we cannot help because there is no anti-snake venom available now. We have had more than 200 cases in the last one month, with many of them losing their lives"
Mr Dajel said unscrupulous traditional healers have taken advantage of the situation to make a quick buck by promising remedies which turn out to be ineffective. He said: “What the herbalists are doing is trial and error. Most victims bleed in the brain because the venom is vicious; traditional healers cannot tackle that because they concentrate on healing the wound."