Breaking the vicious circle of snakebites in the developing world
For years, Dr. Cellou Baldé has treated snakebite patients out of a small, two-bedroom home in Guinea. Inside, there are six inpatient cots but no sheets. The kitchen is used as a triage area. The power goes out daily, which means Dr. Baldé and his staff often assess patients by flashlight or the light of the moon.
Despite these conditions, of the roughly 700 patients who arrive each year – sometimes traveling days to get there – the mortality rate is less than 5%, a vast difference when compared with the approximately 30% regionwide.
The clinic is successful because of Dr. Baldé’s expertise as a herpetologist – but also because he and his team have deployed evidence-based medicine and effective, field-stable antivenoms. His success in Guinea has attracted the support and commitments needed to build a new clinic with significant modern improvements. More on that below. Unfortunately, others throughout the developing world are not so lucky. They remain trapped in what organizations like the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation (ASF) – whose efforts in Guinea are led by Dr. Baldé – call a vicious circle of snakebites.
The vicious circle of snakebites in the developing world
If you get a snakebite in many parts of the developing world, chances are that you will first go to a local healer – in part because of the logistical challenges of transporting patients, and in part because most perceive hospitals as overly expensive.
If the bite is dry or non-venomous, the traditional healer’s treatment may appear effective. If not, symptoms will likely get worse, forcing you to go to a hospital hours or even days after the bite. Once there, other challenges may present themselves: many hospitals aren’t equipped with the proper antivenoms; even if they are, doctors are often unable to save the life or limb of a patient, as the clinician may not be properly trained to handle the condition of a patient who arrives long after the bite occurred.
These poor outcomes only reaffirm the decision to see local healers, which then hampers hospitals’ abilities to buy antivenom at scale and discourages doctors and nurses from seeking out training. Thus the vicious circle starts all over again.
This tragic cycle helps explain why snakebites have recently been declared a top-priority tropical disease by the World Health Organization, and why they result in 30,000 – 50,000 deaths and over 100,000 disabilities a year in Africa alone.
Breaking the circle, one step at a time
The ASF, in partnerships with physicians like Dr. Baldé, hopes to break this vicious circle through a combination of research, treatment, and training. They understand the power of quality antivenoms, the importance of treating a bite early, and the need for specialized training.
With a donation from BTG Specialty Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Baldé and ASF will be able to save the lives of more snakbite victims. BTG is helping to fund the construction of an entirely new medical and educational facility for Dr. Baldé team in Guinea, replete with a more open layout, fresh water, adequate supply storage, and a stable power supply. Other critical improvements will include additional beds, individual rooms for patient privacy, dedicated storage rooms for maintaining medications and equipment, and a dedicated resuscitation bay to facilitate initial assessment, stabilization, and team-based resuscitation of critically ill snakebite patients.
While one clinic won’t eradicate the vicious circle of snakebites in the developing world, we’re proud to play a part in this ongoing fight.
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