As all who know me know, it is an abiding passion to see that the tools of modern biotechnology are used for the benefit of the poorest on the planet, and not misused by the wealthiest. To that end, I am as proud as I am of anything I might have done in the past to have been at the right time and place to mediate the following publication in the scientific journal that I founded a lifetime ago. - Harvey Bialy is the editor of "You Bet Your Life".
NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY Vol. 25, February 2007
Bringing Antivenoms to Sub-Saharan Africa
Roberto P Stock, Achille Massougbodji, Alejandro Alagón & Jean-Philippe Chippaux
To reduce unacceptably high death rates from snakebite envenomation, sub-Saharan Africa must adopt not only a new generation of multivalent biotech antivenoms, but also an infrastructure to deliver them. Envenomation by snakebite is a ubiquitous problem, as there are poisonous snakes in every continent and almost every country (Table 1). Although arthropod stings constitute the most common cause of envenoming by animals, around 80% of deaths by envenomation worldwide are caused by snakebite, followed by scorpion stings, which cause 15%. Morbidity and mortality by snakebite vary widely (both globally and within countries and regions) for reasons that span the ecological (local snake species and behavior) and the social (activities that may increase the probability of man-snake encounter, access to care and antivenom). In regions where urban population is relatively high—Europe and North America, for example—there is, obviously, a lower incidence of bites/envenomations, but also far lower mortality .The former is probably related to the relatively low abundance of dangerous snakes, whereas the latter is a consequence of the degree of access to appropriate medical care, which is critically dependent on the availability of effective antivenoms. We describe here our experience in the design, development and implementation of an approach to the problem of the near absence of healthcare for envenomation by snakebite in Africa. The problem is, of course, one among many, but it is not minor and in places mortality by snakebite can be even higher than that of malaria. [Read the entire article here]