Snakebites affect at least 5 million people globally each year, killing about 130 thousand, and leaving 400 thousand with permanent physical and psychological disabilities.
David Williams, a snakebite expert at the University of Melbourne who heads the Australian Venom Research Unit, has played a key role in developing the strategy in his position as chair of the WHO’s Snakebite Envenoming Working Group.
In India alone, snakes bite more than 2.8 million people each year, causing at least 46 thousand deaths. In Africa, snakebite kills about 32 thousand people annually and leaves tens of thousands more with permanent disabilities.
The WHO-led strategy is the first global plan to minimize snakebite’s huge health and socioeconomic cost. It aims to reduce the death and disability burden by 50 percent by 2030, through a comprehensive strategy that includes delivering up to three million effective snakebite treatments annually.
Williams says tackling the considerable challenge of snakebite required a globally coordinated effort combining political, technical, and financial support from countries, development partners, philanthropists, and other stakeholders.
He says concerted action by governments and other stakeholders generated the political support to elevate snakebite to the WHO’s neglected tropical diseases list. Advocacy by the University of Melbourne-based Global Snakebite Initiative, Médecins sans Frontières, Health Action International, and the US-based Lillian Lincoln Foundation was crucial in raising the profile of snakebite and driving the campaign for UN Member State support of WHO action.
“WHO’s snakebite envenoming road map, which will be officially launched in Geneva on 23 May, presents the first truly global strategy developed to reduce the tremendous burden of human suffering caused by snake bites,” Williams says.
Williams says the Working Group, a global team of 28 experts, proposed a strategy that confronted the problem in all countries that snakebites affect and emphasized integrating the response into overall efforts to improve the world population’s health.
He says the road map’s successful implementation depended on WHO receiving funding support from countries, donors, and development partners.
“Investing in this work not only benefits victims of snakebite, but also works to improve health systems and health outcomes for whole communities, amplifying the impact and value of this approach,” he says.
“The plan calls for snakebite envenoming to be incorporated within national and regional health plans and aligned with global commitments to achieving Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals,” Williams says.