Kenyans fall prey to fake snake bite medicines

By Gatonye Gathura

In what looks like a replay of the biblical betrayal at the Garden of Aden, Kenyans have fallen victims to fake anti snake-bite treatments.

A team of scientists from Kenya, UK, and Costa Rica have tested locally sold anti snake bite medicines, called anti-venom or antivenin and found all of them a lie.

“All the anti-snake-bite medicines, being sold in Kenya do not work against local poison,” they say in a report published on Wednesday.

The study also involving George Omondi, the head of the Kenya Snakebite Research & Intervention Centre affiliated to the Institute of Primate Research of the Kenya National Museums, says locally sold anti-venoms are dangerously ineffective.

The researchers acquired six anti-venoms brands mainly used in East Africa to treat snake bites from commercial pharmacies in Nairobi.

Laboratory tests were carried out at the University of Costa Rica and none of the anti-venoms was found effective against any of the snake poisons in the region.

“The fact that none of the six anti-venoms is effective against all the East African snake poisons was of greatest concern,” says the report appearing in the journal Plos: Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Like in the Biblical Adam story, the study intimates Kenyans have been betrayed by medicines regulatory authorities, manufactures mainly from India and local distributors.

It is mandatory that all human medicines coming into the country be tested for safety and effectiveness in this case by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

It looks like newly imported anti-venoms; the study says are not being subjected to independent efficacy trials instead the regulators choosing to trust information from the manufactures.

“Reports of anti-venom ineffectiveness and rising case fatalities, seemingly throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, demonstrate this trust has been misplaced,” says the study.

Due to similar treacheries, reports from Ghana, Chad and the Central African Republic document increased deaths from under two per cent to over 12 per cent in the recent past.

Last year doctors in Kenya including at Kenyatta National Hospital raised concerns that the anti-venom available in the country was proving to be ineffective.

They had theorized that the anti-venom was being approved based on dubious data presented to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board by the manufacturers.

The new study seems to have validated the theory showing some manufacturers to be deliberately mislabeling the medicines to claim effectiveness against local snake poisons.

For example the research shows one widespread brand marketed in the region to have been developed based on a type of snake found in India but mislabeled to indicate it is effective against poison from a local type of viper.

For an anti-venom to work, experts explain it must be developed from the specific type of snake of which poison it is supposed to counter.

Consequently an anti-venom to treat victims of local snake bites must be based on the poison of local snakes but not from India as it is the case now.

The study involving experts from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, The Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, University of Costa Rica and Baringo, County Health Services say the problem started around 2002 deteriorating quickly to the current fraud.

Before the crisis effective anti-venom in the region, the team explains was being supplied by the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.

These antivenins were reportedly expensive, for the local market and the manufacturer ceased production last year citing their unprofitability hence setting the current crisis in motion.

Another effective anti-venom was also coming from South Africa but reportedly has become too expensive and no longer available locally.

To fill this gap, the report explains Satan came in with cheap anti-venoms mainly from Indian which have now been confirmed useless.

The team now makes an urgent appeal to all doctors in Kenya treating against snake bites to publish their outcomes indicating the brands of anti-venoms used to help weed out fake products.

Some Facts

Data from: Snake Bite Rescue Rehabilitation and Research Centre Kenya

  1. 300-500 Kenyans admitted with snakebites monthly
  2. 15 to 25 people lose their lives daily from snake bites
  3. 100 people are amputated of limbs
  4. Victims travel for 30 to 50 kilometers for hospital treatment
  5. Unpaid compensation from snake bites stands at Sh 4.5 billion
  6. Snake venom can cause death in 15 minutes to half hour without prompt and effective treatment
  7. 68 per cent of bitten persons resort to traditional healers
  8. 32,000 people die from snake bit in sub-Saharan
  9. 100,000 survivors permanently disabled annually is SS Africa

World Health Organisation’s estimates

  1. 4 million people are bitten each year with up to 2.7 million poisoned.
  2. Around 81 000 to 138 000 people die each year as a result of snake bites, and around three times as many amputations or disabled.
  3. Agricultural workers and children are the most affected.
  4. Children often suffer more severe effects than adults, due to their smaller body mass.

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