In 2017, the World Health Organisation declared snakebite a category A, neglected tropical disease. Annually, there are an estimated 81,000 to 138,000 snakebite related deaths around the world, which is far more than aeroplane crashes and acts of terrorism combined, yet public education on the subject is sparse! This is probably because the large majority of these deaths occur in rural areas and to the poor. This number of deaths may sound a lot, however, we have to remember that far more people die from smoking related illnesses, consuming fast food and road deaths than from snakebite.
The Swaziland Antivenom Foundation is a registered non-profit, charitable organisation based in eSwatini, and was established to address the neglected tragedy of snakebite envenomating. The Swaziland Snakebite Foundation was founded in 2009 to give a voice to the forgotten victims of snakebite in poor, mostly rural communities.
This years Swaziland Snakebite Symposium was held on the 2nd and 3rd of November 2018, with the panel of speakers that included the leading medical professionals at the for front of snakebite treatment. As individuals, they contribute a piece of the snakebite puzzle, specialising in trauma, surgery, support and logistics, which together constitute an effective management system.
Swaziland is inhabited by highly venomous snakes, that together with the rural area, provide challenges that are not unfamiliar in many other parts of Africa. The solution to this challenge can be found along the entire chain of events, from education of the general public, capacity to treat snakebite, availability of antivenom, and aftercare support. The foundation has made huge advances in reducing snakebite fatalities and related disabilities in Swaziland.
To support this aim, Jonathan Leeming was invited as a panel member and presenter for the symposium, presenting on spider, scorpion and centipede envenomation, as well as presenting a workshop and practical activities. Jonathan is an authority on spider bites and scorpion stings within southern Africa. He was just one of the panel members of the symposium.
The symposium topics included:
- Management of snakebite at a community level.
- WHO and snakebite.
- Surgical procedures.
- Late complications of local envenoming.
- Snake venom ophthalmia.
- Spiders, scorpion and centipede envenomation.
- Venomous snakes of Swaziland.
- Snakebites and pets.
- Spider, scorpion and centipede bite workshop.
- Airway management practical workshop.
- Practical snake display of Swaziland’s venomous snakes.
One of the key points from the symposium was that education needs to be applied to every aspect of the snakebite chain of events. One of the primary reason why snakebite occur is because of general public behaviour. If anyone finds a snake in the garden or home, the following is good advice.
- Don’t kill the snake or try to catch it will defend itself.
- Keep pets and people away from the snake.
- Call the fire department or local snake catcher.
- Watch the snake until help arrives.
Behaving in a non-threatening way towards a snake is the best way to prevent from being bitten. Other ways to manage snakebite is through education of medical professionals, increasing the availability of antivenom, and improving aftercare support.
As the premier snakebite symposium in southern Africa, there were participants from Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Ireland, Great Britain, Costa Rica and Australia. All of the participants will take back valuable lessons learned at the symposium.