By Aziza Atieno

By 2025, Kenya will be manufacturing snake antivenom locally, Dr. Wyckliff Omondi, Head division of vector borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases(NTD), Ministry of Health said during the commemoration of World NTD Day.

The move is aimed at accelerating and controlling access to anti venom in remotely affected areas to reduce the burden of the condition, which kills 800 people annually in Kenya and 130,000 globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to Dr. Omondi, Kenya is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Republic of Costa Rica to ensure that it builds capacity to start Kenya off in the production of antivenom locally.

Dr. Wyckliff Omondi

Once the Memorandum has been signed, the division of vector borne and NTDs together with  the Kenya Snakebite Research and Intervention Centre (KSRIC) and other stakeholders will train the local personnel and establish manufacturing plant to help milk the venom itself and  develop the antivenom within the next three years.

“Costa Rica is advanced towards making antivenoms and when we acquire those skills and knowledge, we will be able to make our own antivenom.  This is because antivenoms are mostly specific to region, so if you try to use a black mamba antivenom from South Africa or India, sometimes they may not be very effective,” he said.

“If we get these knowledge and skills then the technological transfer, we shall be able to control the snakebites that is occurring locally. Currently, most of the anti-venom used in Kenya is mainly coming from South Africa and India.”

Dr. Sultani Matendechero

According to Dr. Sultani Matendechero, Head Kenya National Public Health Institute/ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (NPHI/CDC), snakebite treatment has come a long way since 2018 when all stakeholders came up with a guideline on how to treat snakebites by registering three new antivenoms, training the health workers on the administration and talking to community members to regain confidence in hospitals to treat snakebites, compared to the traditional medicine which they were used to.

Manufacturers and county governments have bought the drugs at 400% cost reduction, which has made the drugs affordable and easily accessible, he said.

The WHO  prioritized snakebite as an NTD in 2017 and  encouraged policymakers to take it more seriously and led to the UK National Institute for Health Research funding that helped set up the Kenya Snakebite Research and Intervention Centre (KSRIC).

This was followed closely by funding for new snakebite therapies from the UK Department for International Development, according to Dr. George Oluoch, Head of KSRIC.

Apart from using other interventions like community engagement and first aid to control the disease, the research done on snakebites is very important because eventually, the data is what will be required to identify long term interventions that work for snakebite, which will reduce deaths brought by the disease.