The National, Monday 25th March 2013
ONE of the world’s leading snakebite experts has called on the government to give snakebite the high priority it deserves.
Clinical toxinologist Prof David Warrell, principally famous for his work on prospective studies of snakebite in tropical developing countries, including PNG, made the call last Friday.
He is in the country to set up clinical trials for new anti-venom for the deadly Papua Taipan snake at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
Warrell is also the professor emeritus of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Oxford in England.
Project coordinator David “Snakeman” Williams estimated that about 200 people died from snakebite in PNG a year, but this was those who came into hospital, and the figures were much higher, as those who died were from rural areas, particularly Western province, who do not have the luxury of health services.
“Williams and I and other well-meaning figures, who are devoted to this country, can plead the cause of snakebite, that more resources should be provided, that snakebite should be given higher priority in the public health agenda of PNG,” Warrell said.
“But I don’t think it will be taken very seriously as a problem until a very senior Papua New Guinean, perhaps the minister for health or other health official, or even the prime minister, points out that this is a very serious and unusual medical problem.
“It’s a problem that affects some of the poorest people in the country, the rural people and very valuable people such as the farmers.
“I don’t think that this problem will ever be given sufficient attention in PNG until Papua New Guineans themselves take this on, and protest and proclaim, that it is an important health issue.”
Williams said about 3,500 people were bitten by snakes around PNG per year, of which 1,400 actually become ill.
“Of the 1,400 who do actually get sick, we know that at least 200 of them die every year right around the country – that’s just the ones who get to a health centre.
“If you’re in Western, roughly five people die outside hospital for every one person who dies in it, so if you have 50 deaths in a year in provincial health centres, probably another 250 people die in villages, in canoes along the river on their way to health centres, or being carried through the jungle.”