Snakebite envenoming added to the WHO NTD portfolio

News article 13 Jun 2017
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LSTM’s Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit welcomes a decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to include snakebite envenoming among its list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

More than 95,000 people die every year because of snakebite, many of them residing in some of the world’s poorest communities with a further up to 300,000 surviving victims with permanent physical disabilities or disfigurements. The Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit has been an advocate of change to reverse the plight of tropical snakebite victims for over two decades, and were delighted to be informed recently that WHO Director General has adopted the March 2017 recommendation of the NTD Strategic and Technical Advisory Group to include snakebite envenoming among the WHO’s list of NTDs.

Dr Robert Harrison, Head of the Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit, said: ““This is an important and very welcome decision by the WHO, and adds empowering impetus to WHO’s 2016 initiative to improve the quality of antivenoms to treat snakebite victims in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Unit is currently working to develop a universal antivenom that will be effective against the 21 most medically important snakes in sub-Saharan Africa. The work, funded by the Medical Research Council, sees LSTM and their collaborators at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado, San Jose, Costa Rica and the Institute de Biomdedicina de Valencia, Spain work to deliver a broad-spectrum, or poly specific antivenom which will be both effective and affordable.

The much-welcomed announcement by WHO’s Dr Dirk Engels has other positive ramifications. Dr Harrison continued: “The WHO acting as a focal point will help to coordinate global activities centred upon reducing the disease burden of snakebite, and promote these concerted activities for consideration by the major investors in the world’s most neglected tropical diseases. Funding to assist WHO and its partners overcome the many diverse issues that prevent tropical snakebite victims accessing effective treatment is the vital next step to maximise the benefit of this weekend’s announcement.”