MSF reported Sept. 7, 2015, that its personnel increasingly treat snakebites in its field programs.

MSF Warns of Acute Antivenom Shortage

According to MSF, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi stopped making Fav-Afrique, which is the world's only antivenom proven safe and effective to treat envenoming from different types of snakes across sub-Saharan Africa, at the end of 2014. The last batch of Fav-Afrique is due to expire in June 2016 and no replacement will be available for another two years.

Saying thousands of people will die of snakebite unnecessarily unless the global health community acts to ensure treatment and antivenom are made available, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Sept. 7 called on WHO and the global public health community to address the problem. MSF representatives are participating in a symposium on the subject in Basel, Switzerland, this week.

"We are now facing a real crisis, so why do governments, pharmaceutical companies, and global health bodies walk away when we need them most?" asked Gabriel Alcoba, MSF's snakebite medical advisor. "Imagine how frightening it must be to be bitten by a snake—to feel the pain and venom spread through your body—knowing it may kill you and there is no treatment available or that you can't afford to pay for it."

According to MSF, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi stopped making Fav-Afrique, which is the world's only antivenom proven safe and effective to treat envenoming from different types of snakes across sub-Saharan Africa, at the end of 2014. The last batch of Fav-Afrique is due to expire in June 2016 and no replacement will be available for another two years.

An estimated 5 million people worldwide are bitten by snakes annually. Among those, 100,000 die and 400,000 are permanently disabled or disfigured, with 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa dying each year from snakebites and an estimated 8,000 undergoing amputations, according to MSF, which reports it is increasingly treating snakebite victims in its field programs -- including between 300 and 400 per year in Paoua, Central African Republic, and more than 300 in Agok, South Sudan, during 2014. Many of those victims are children.

"Until a replacement product to Fav-Afrique is available, we hope that Sanofi can start to generate the base material needed to produce Fav-Afrique and then find suitable opportunities within their production capacity to refine it into antivenom," said Julien Potet, neglected diseases advisor for MSF's Access Campaign.

MSF called on the global health community, donors, governments, and pharmaceutical companies to treat snakebite as a public health emergency and take immediate and appropriate collaborative action.

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