The global supply of a life-saving antivenom is quickly running out, Doctors Without Borders warned this week.
Fav-Afrique, the only antivenom capable of saving victimes bitten by cobras, vipers and other deadly African snakes, is nearly gone, with the last batch set to expire in June 2016, according to a release from the international humanitarian group.
Dr. Gabriel Alcoba, the snakebite medical adviser for Doctors Without Borders, said the dwindling antivenom supply is a crisis that could lead to 30,000 death per year. “This is an epidemic. This is comparable to many other diseases,” Alcoba said.
Fav-Afrique was most recently produced by just one company in the world, Sanofi Pasteur in France. However, the company stopped making antivenom last year for cost reasons, and have not yet transferred production to another company. If more antivenom is not made, and soon, Doctors Without Borders say, Africa could be devoid of snakebite treatment by this time next year.
Alcoba says the global death toll of snakebites are comparable to many high-profile diseases, yet snakebites get just a fraction of attention from governments and charitable organizations. 100,000 people die of snakebites each year, Doctors Without Borders says, and to keep that number from climbing even higher, authories need to take action to ensure high-quality antivenom hits the market soon.
Some experts say cost is the biggest challenge to getting more antivenom to patients at need. Organizations like the World Health Organization has a team member on staff dedicated to antivenom, but still struggles to find funding, as the limited supply of antivenom makes it very expensive. One treatment of Fav-Afrique, for example, can costs up to $500.
Snakebite treatment received some attention in America last July when a $153,000 medical bill due to antivenom treatment was shared on social media. Like in Africa, that high cost was due largely to antivenom for snakebites in the U.S. being made by only one company, CroFab. Last May, the high cost of snakebite treatment even led one man to refuse treatment, and subsequently die.
About six people die annualy from venomous snakebites in the United States, but Doctors Without Borders say the cost to Africa could be much worse if antivenom treatment isn’t secured for the near future. “We are now facing a real crisis, so why do governments, pharmaceutical companies and global health bodies slither away when we need them most?” said Alcoba. “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?”