In-Depth: 91 deaths from snake bites irritate Nigerian senate

… The death of 91 persons from snake bite in three weeks is causing ripples in Nigeria as the upper legislative body, the Senate moves to probe the situation.

The Nigerian Senate on Thursday asked its committee on Health to investigate the alleged failure of the Federal Ministry of Health to supply anti-snake venom to treatment centres and other health centres in the country.

The Senate decision followed a motion tagged ‘Alarming increase in the rate of deaths of victims of snake bites due to scarcity of Anti-Snake Venom’, sponsored by Joshua Lidani (PDP, Gombe South).

250 victims of snake bite died within three weeks in Plateau and Gombe states in Nigeria, following an acute scarcity of anti-snake venom drugs in the country.

The Ministry of Health issued a statement the following day denying that there was a scarcity of the drugs, although it was silent on the casualties.

Moving the motion on the issue at the Senate on Thursday, Mr. Lidani said that the Ministry stopped supply of anti-venom to health centres since last year.

While pointing out that the number of deaths from snake bites rose especially in the snake belt states of Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe and Plateau due to unavailability of anti-snake venom, Mr. Lidani expressed worry that 91 victims died within the past three weeks.

“There are only three snake bite treatment centres established by the Federal Government in the North, namely Kaltungo in Gombe State, Zanko Langtang in Plateau State and Bambur in Taraba State catering for the numerous victims of snake bites which are highly prevalent in the area.

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“The Gombe State Government had been supplying the anti-snake venom worth N8.5 million every quarter to the treatment centre at Kaltungo. But because of the numerous patients coming from the neighbouring states, the quantity of anti-snake venom has been inadequate and patients have resorted to buying from pharmaceutical shops at exorbitant rates.

“The suppliers of the anti-snake venom who used to import them from UK and South Africa have been unable to import these vaccines adequately and consequently patients have resorted to traditional means which are unsafe and unreliable.

An ampule of anti-snake venom costs N35, 000 and not less than three ampules dosage are required for the treatment which is unaffordable by most of the peasant farmers in those areas,” Mr. Lidani said.

He further noted that the federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo had approved the establishment of a factory for production of anti-snake venom in Gombe State, but nothing has been done in furtherance of that approval.

Mr. Lidani also frowned at how all anti-snake venom drugs are imported into the country as no pharmaceutical company is producing them in Nigeria.

After resolving to probe the supply of the drugs by the ministry, the senate further urged the Federal Ministry of Health to as a matter of urgency procure sufficient quantity of anti-snake venom and supply them to the treatment centres at Kaltungo, Langtang and Bambur.

It also urged the Federal Ministry of Health to initiate step towards the establishment of local production of anti-snake venom in Nigeria.

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