In rural parts of Africa, tropical snakebite kills 32,000 people annually. Victims typically live in poverty in disadvantaged rural communities that are far away from effective healthcare. The tragedy is that, once bitten, victims require immediate medical treatment but this is too often unavailable and unaffordable leaving over 90,000 people with devastating and debilitating disfigurement. Effective and rapid first-aid treatment combined with quick transportation to hospital is essential.
The Alistair Reid Venom Unit at LSTM has received funding from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust to develop and test a SERS programme in Kitui County, Kenya that could ultimately reduce snakebite-related death and disability in rural regions of Africa and Asia. SERS is a smartphone-app that provides support to community health volunteers through providing them with Android phones, equipped with the SERS-app, enabling them to identify snakes, the severity of the symptoms, administer first aid and, if needed, deploy specially-designed motorcycle ambulances to rapidly and safely transport victims to well-equipped health care facilities.
Motorcycle ambulances will be equipped with life-saving support (including manual ventilation) giving reassurance to even the most isolated, deeply neglected communities that they can access emergency medical assistance – whether that be for snakebite, childbirth or other acute medical conditions.
Currently most rural health centres lack clinical staff, equipment and the proper antivenom needed to effectively treat snakebite; much of the antivenom imported into Africa is manufactured with India snake venoms and therefore ineffective. Through this project, hospitals will be provided with quality antivenom and clinical staff will receive training to effectively manage snakebite emergencies.
A successful pilot could result in SERS being widely adopted throughout rural Africa and Asia. To robustly demonstrate the apps effectiveness, it must be tested in more than one location. All events input into the App will be recorded on a central database and widely disseminated to NGOs, providing accurate surveillance for Government to promote national policy change of snakebite management and to advocate the uptake of SERS in other regions of sub-Saharan Africa.
SERS has the potential to drastically improve health systems infrastructure, save lives and prevent disability, reducing the socioeconomic burden on victims and their families.