92% of Health Workers Can’t Treat Snakebites-Study

FILE PHOTO: James Ntulume, a renown snake handler in Uganda explains how a snake bites.
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Ninety two percent health workers in the country lack the training to manage snake bite injuries, Dennis Kibira, the Executive Director for Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development-HEPs has revealed. According to Kibira, a study conducted in 2018 also shows that only 4 percent health facilities across the country stock anti-venom. He explains that the study found that a lot of people don’t seek care at health facilities when bitten by snakes.

This he said is partly because even with big numbers of people being amputated and others dying of envenoming-a potentially life-threatening disease that typically results from the injection of a mixture of different toxins, snake bites have been largely overlooked by healthcare planners.

But, like Uganda, even countries elsewhere are only waking up now to pay attention to the problem after the World Health Organization added envenoming to the list of the top 20 Neglected Tropical Diseases globally last year. Then, Uganda started a process of coming up with a strategy on prevention and management.

Dr. Jackson Amone, the Commissioner Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health, says they have started drafting guidelines for treatment for health workers.

Dr.Amone Jackson, the Commissioner for Clinical services at Ministry of Health accepts the role of snake bite champion during a high level stakeholders’ meeting to review the Uganda snakebite strategy.

He said the guidelines will be included in the general clinical guidelines and essential medicines lists that are currently being updated and will be released next year.

Apart from the clinical guidelines for already practicing health workers, the draft strategy also talks of developing a health worker’s training curriculum because nowhere in medical training is envenoming considered and also speaks of creating awareness and ensuring availability of right treatments.

Kibira says the available treatments on the market are not meant to treat snake bites that happen in Uganda.

James Ntulume, the proprietor of a snake farm who often treats people bitten by snakes, says what can work for Uganda well is the South African Antivenom but it’s quite expensive and only available on the private market. Each vial he says goes for about Shillings 400,000 and yet one may need up to 8 vials for a single treatment for a poisonous bite depending on severity of the injury.

However, even before the strategy which is yet to be approved by the Health Ministry is finalized, Kibira urges the public to drop dangerous practices that could aggravate injuries.

This was disclosed at a meeting organized by World Health Organization-WHO and attended by among others officials from Ministry of Health, conservationists and snake handlers to review a draft strategy on snake bite management.

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