LONDON, May 16 (Reuters) – A global health trust is to inject 80 million pounds ($ 102 million) into a "hidden health crisis" that kills 120,000 people a year and thousands of thousands more.
A Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine researcher undertakes Liverpool, UK, in this handout photo obtained May 15, 2019. Nick Balloon / Wellcome / via REUTERS
The project, launched by Britain's Wellcome Trust, global health charity on Thursday, to improve the world's supply of antivenomics – the only current treatment for snakebites – and to develop new and more effective drugs for the future.
"Snakebite treatment is essentially reliant on a 100-year-old process," said David Lalloo, a professor and director of Britain's Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Lalloo told reporters at a briefing.
Philip Price, a specialist in snakebite science at Wellcome, said venomous snakebites kill around 120,000 people a year – mostly in the poorest communities of rural Africa, Asia and South America – and called it a "hidden health crisis".
Another 400,000 suffer life-changing injuries such as amputations, which can push already deprived into more poverty, he told the briefing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is about to publish a "Snakebite Roadmap" by 2030.
The current treatments – antivenoms – are manufactured by injecting horses with small and relatively harmless amounts of snake venom and then harvesting their blood to be used in humans – a 19th century technology with no common safety or efficacy standards.
The technique also carries high risk of contamination and side effects, expert say, and means victims must be treated in hospitals. Treatment is often too expensive for victims, and often it is too late to save lives.
Added to these problems, there is a shortage of antivenoms that will work for the populations most at risk. In Africa, for example, up to 90 percent of antivenoms could also be ineffective.
Mike Turner, Wellcome's director of science, said there was a clear and urgent need for progress.
"Snakebite is – or should be – a treatable condition," he said. "While people always want to ask by venomous snakes, there is no reason so many should."
Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Frances Kerry