In 2015, a puff adder bit 4-year-old Chepchirchir Kiplagat. She lost the use of the left side of her body. Sleeping beside her, 2-year-old Scholar also was bitten. She died.
“We saw two blood spots on her (Chepchirchir’s) wrist,” said their father, Jackson Chepkui, in the village of Embosos in Kenya. “That’s how we were able to conclude that they were bitten by a snake.”
Chepkui traveled 160 kilometers to the hospital in Eldoret. The trip included two stops at clinics along the way and took nine hours. Chepchirchir was in the hospital for two months.
Snakes bite 5.4 million people worldwide each year, and 81,000 to 138,000 people die annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
What happened to the girls was avoidable, said Royjan Taylor, director of the Bio-Ken Snake Farm in Watamu, Kenya. Mosquito nets can repel the reptiles, and access to trained medical staff and antivenins can save lives.
An antivenin availability report by the Global Snakebite Initiative in 2013 estimated it could be as low as 2.5% of what is needed, with most African countries having no effective or affordable antivenin at all.
Venomous snakes pose a public health risk that experts say has been neglected too long. But things may be changing.
In February 2019, a United Nations working group unveiled a strategy for halving snake bite deaths by 2030. The plan envisions making 500,000 antivenin treatments available in Sub-Saharan Africa every year by 2024, rising to 3 million per year globally by 2030.
WHO will work to boost production of the serum, improve regulatory control, and reinvigorate the market by ensuring that safe and effective products are available.