The Antivenom Crisis That’s Taking A Bite At Guinea Bissau

The Soga Island, a part of the Bijagos archipelago associated with Guinea-Bissau, is home to deadly snakes, and so, snake bites are common on the island.

Soga is one of the 88 islands of the Bijagos archipelago with about 30,000 people living on the island.

“The Bijagos islands are reputed for their snakes. All the deadliest species live there, including mambas and cobras,” says Aissata Regolla, a researcher at Guinea-Bissau’s Institute for Bioversity and Protected Marine Areas (IBAP).

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“On certain islands, our staff can’t walk more than five minutes without seeing one.”

News24 reported that every year, about 125,000 people die as a result of snake bites, most especially in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

This results in demand for anti-venom medications. However, supply for affordable antivenom drugs has failed to coincide with demand.

“The price of some antivenoms has dramatically increased in the last 20 years, making treatment unaffordable for the majority of those who need it,” the UN health agency said.

The Antivenom Crisis That's Taking A Bite At Guinea Bissau

As a result of the cost of the antivenom drugs, patients usually seek cheaper drugs which are usually less effective than the more expensive brands. In effect this pushes the big brands out of the market as producing the antivenom fails to be cost-effective.

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“Antivenom is a biological product. You have to buy the venom, draw out the antibodies, purify them… it’s an arduous and complex process,” explains Jean-Philippe Chippaux, a snake bite expert at France’s Institute of Research for Development (IRD).

“Governments, local authorities and companies should all make a contribution. Today no ministry is capable of saying where the problem lies, how many bites there are or where they took place.”

A dose of antivenom is said to cost about $150 which is more than a month’s salary.

Unlike other health crisis, the case of snake bites has failed to gain global awareness. This is due to a number of factors among which includes the lack of a political aspect in the antivenom crisis.