Intended for healthcare professionals


Snake bite: a global failure to act costs thousands of lives each year

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 27 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5378
  1. David J Williams, head12
  1. 1Australian Venom Research Unit, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
  2. 2Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre, University of Papua New Guinea, Boroko, Papua New Guinea
  1. david.williams{at}

Vulnerable populations need urgent access to effective and affordable treatments

For many years snake bite experts have sought to raise the profile of this forgotten problem with public health authorities and donors. Lamentably, however, it has taken news of the departure of antivenom manufacturer Sanofi-Pasteur from the sub-Saharan African market to focus the spotlight on the calamity of snake bite among the world’s poorest people.

Nevertheless, beyond this successful media storm,1 2 the reality is that for the majority of people bitten by snakes in Africa the loss of Sanofi’s FAV-Afrique polyvalent antivenom will mean little, if anything at all. This is because the product simply never reached them in the first place. In a region where median gross domestic product per capita is $550 (£360; €490), Sanofi’s product was simply too expensive (a four vial treatment cost about $540) and produced in insufficient quantities to meet the needs of more than a small part of the African continent.3 4

The harsh fact is that the continent is largely devoid of safe, effective, and affordable treatments for something that is eminently treatable. For decades there have …

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