Makerere University through the School of Public Health (MakSPH) in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWEC) has today joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Snakebite Awareness Day (ISBAD)
ISBAD is commemorated globally every year to raise awareness of one of the world’s biggest hidden health crises. In 2018 the Global Snakebite Initiative, Health Action International and the Lillian Lincoln Foundation announced 19th September as the ‘International Snakebite Awareness Day’. This was in response to WHO’s global strategy to reduce disability and death due to snakebites by half by the year 2030’.
Addressing the press today, Monday September 19,
called on Ugandans to appreciate the burden and join efforts to raise awareness on the burden of snakebites in Uganda.
A 2021 study conducted by MakSPH with funds from the Uganda government through the Makerere University Research Innovation Fund (Mak-RIF) provided insights on the burden of snakebite in the country.
In Uganda, 32 percent of the households have ever had a snakebite victim and in every 100,000 population, 101 are bitten by snakes each year. Snakebites also constitute a relatively big proportion of medical consultation, for every 100,000 population who seek medical care in health facilities, 72 are due to snakebites.
The study was conducted from the 1080 households enrolled in the study with 6,600 respondents in six districts of Gulu and Arua (Northern), Nakapiripirit (North-eastern) Mubende and Kasese (Western) and Kamuli (Eastern) that were randomly selected as representations of the various regions in the country.
Study results show the population is still using rudimentary snakebites prevention practices including tying a tourniquet, (79.4%), use of herbs-local or drinking (23%), and making cuts to the bites (16%) as the most common practices. Researchers warn of drastic consequences arising out of these practices.
“The common practice of using a tourniquet is very dangerous if bitten by a haemotoxic venomous snake. If you do the tying tightly, you will kill off the limb. What is recommended is the use of an elastic bandage”, he advised.
Uganda is home to over 120 known species of snakes and of these, 20% are venomous and 80% are non-venomous. Also, about 32% of the households have ever had a snakebite victim and in every 100,000 population, 101 are bitten by a snake each year.
“Snakes are responsible for regulating the population of other wildlife like mice which can spread plague to human beings. Besides, recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, we noticed that reptiles are potential carriers of viruses that are safe to them but can be harmful to human beings when exposed”, he rallied.
Mr. Otiti also provided tips on how humans can limit their chances of being bitten by snakes and these included: moving with a flashlight in the night, ensuring you have adequate footwear that covers the ankles and checking the house for small holes.
In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a target to reduce by half the number of deaths and disabilities due to snakebite globally by 2030.
Uganda responded to WHO strategy by integrating snakebite envenoming into the country’s neglected tropical diseases program, developing a national snakebite prevention and management strategy as well as supporting research. However, achieving the target by 2030 is threatened by the numerous barriers including; limited community awareness on snakebites, a wide range of harmful practices related with snakebites as well as inadequate capacity of the health system to manage snakebites.
Dr. Suzan Kizito, a researcher in the Department of Disease Control and Environmental Health Science, at MakSPH says snake Antivenom remain the gold standard for managing of snakebite envenoming to avoid mortality and minimize long-term disabilities.
“Access to Antivenom is still a big challenge to the country as Antivenom are very expensive, and the currently available Antivenom are of low efficacy since they are not based on venoms of the local snake types. If the country is to achieve the desired target to reduce the snakebite mortality and disability by half, there is a need to; increase awareness on snakebite, advocate among leaders and policy makers to prioritize, allocate funds for snakebite, address the harmful practices related with snakebites, and strengthen capacity of health facilities to manage snakebite,” Dr. Suzan Kizito.
Jimmy Moses Olara & Davidson Ndyabahika