Paying for anti-venom not easy but glad we didn’t die waiting for it — Snakebite survivors

ARMSTRONG BAKAM, who visited Gombe State after many died of snakebites in some states in the North, reports that the situation has caused confusion among residents

Grieve enveloped the Snakebite Research, Training and Treatment Centre, situated inside the Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe State, when our correspondent visited the centre on Thursday.

The centre is where victims of snakebites, which currently ravage some states in the North, especially Gombe State, are receiving medical attention.

Intermittently, family members of the patients caressed them to ease the pains occasioned by the snake venoms in their veins. For weeks, the centre has become a haven for the victims who thronged it from other states to get succour.

Some family members were seen eating, discussing in groups while others slept due to the fatigue of keeping vigil for their loved ones. The centre, surrounded by tall grasses, was a beehive of activities that day like other days.

Our correspondent observed that some of the patients had no beds to sleep on inside the centre’s wards and had to make do with beds in the veranda.

They defied the biting harmattan to sleep outside under the watch of their families. Many others without beds crouched at corners in the centre.

The hospital, built and run many years ago by the missionaries, had been taken over by the Gombe State Government. Before finally taking it over, the state government was supplying snake anti-venom to the hospital.

It was also learnt that the government built a new centre within the hospital furnished with modern equipment to replace the old one but yet to open it for use. In some of the wards, patients lay on mattresses placed on the floor.

Nurses were also busy, administering drugs and injections to the patients. Things were a bit different from earlier days that there were no drugs to give the agonised victims.

Of the two blocks fused with two wards, only the one with offices had electricity at 7pm on that day. An unnamed official in the hospital told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was an outage and the hospital could not afford to buy diesel for its generator.

It was gathered that the victims had a lot to contend with despite their sorry state. They were required to cough up N37,500 each before getting anti-venom when it was available.

Those unable to pay gambled with death by asking their relations to return them home or seek alternative treatment from traditional healers. There is palpable fear currently across the state as snakes unleashed terror on residents.

All the patients interviewed by our correspondent described the payment as unjustifiable, noting that the government should have made it free because of their plight and the present economic situation in the country.

Our correspondent, who sighted a man counting some money inside one of the wards, asked him what it was meant for. He briefly raised his head and said, “I want to pay for the anti-venom so my son can be treated.” He declined answering further questions as he walked into a nearby office to make payment.

A mother of one of the victims, Mercy Musa, lamented that she had no money to feed her family but had to borrow N37,500 to get anti-venom for her 17-year-old son bitten by snake.

Musa added that when she took her son to the hospital, she was told that there were no drugs and they had to wait for almost two weeks before getting medical help.

According to her, she took her son, Ayuba, bitten by a snake on the farm while he was harvesting crops, to the hospital on October 24, but was not treated until 12 days after.

She said, “It was after we paid the money that they attended to him and he took intravenous drips thrice.

“The government should help us. Honestly, it is sad that many people in the region die daily of snakebites. If not that the drugs were eventually brought, I doubt if my son would still be alive by now because many had died in the hospital due to lack of drugs.”

A relation to another victim, Samaila Yakubu, from Patandi ward in the Kaltungo Local government Area of Gombe State, said they paid the money before being attended to.

Despite their ordeal, relations and victims were grateful to God that though the drugs were expensive, they didn’t die while waiting for them.

Experts attributed the increase in snakes at this time of the year in the region to the cold season, signalling the transition from a hot bed to harmattan season.

The Head of the centre, Dr. Abubakar Bala, told SUNDAY PUNCH that it was difficult coping with the situation.

He claimed that many patients left the hospital because of the dearth of the drugs.

“The patients have reduced because they heard that there were no drugs in the hospital. Many of them left, more than 77 patients had left within the past three weeks.

“In October, I admitted 297 patients. We recorded 25 deaths and only 32 are presently on admission. Twenty two died in the wards and we learnt that three died while being taken home from the hospital because of drug scarcity,” he said.

He explained that the free drugs given by the federal and state governments had been exhausted and patients decided to buy the ones brought by the North-East representative.

He urged the Federal Government to release funds to buy the drugs in large quantities and assist local manufacturers to produce the drugs.

Bala also lamented lack of blood storage facilities, disclosing that many of the patients brought from far distances were usually in bad shape and needed blood transfusion.

“There are other challenges we are facing like epileptic power supply, inadequate water supply and manpower. The hospital needs 42 staff members in both the male and female wards as against the seven staff members, attendants and the one doctor currently there, “he stated.

The Gombe State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Umar Suleiman, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the government released funds to the hospital to buy drugs.

He said the dearth of drugs was caused by lack of a cold room in the hospital to preserve them.

Suleiman stated, “You know these drugs require good care. They have to be kept under a good weather and that is why as soon as the government disburses money, they only buy what will be used at that particular moment. Otherwise, if they buy in excess, it will be wasted and at the end of the day, some might even expire. This is because the temperature required to keep the drugs is not available for now.

“The state government under Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo was able to build a new structure in the hospital. You would have seen the old and the new structures constructed by the current administration, fully equipped and ready for inauguration.”

He denied knowledge that the patients were paying for the drugs, adding that they should be free because the government was paying for them.

He said, “I cannot exactly say whether they are being charged that particular amount. I don’t think it is true. Most importantly, most of the people visiting the hospital are not even Gombe indigenes; most of them are from Adamawa, Taraba and other adjoining states. Maybe, most of the cost being incurred is for transporting patients to the hospital, but the money can’t be for drugs.”

‘I got anti-venom six days after snakebite —Yakubu, 25

Samaila Yakubu

What is your name?

I am Samaila Yakubu, a 25 years old man.

Where are you from?

I am a native of Patandi ward in the Kaltungo LGA of Gombe State.

What brought you to the hospital? 

I was bitten by a snake in my hand

Where did it happen? 

I was on my farm harvesting beans. It happened on Tuesday and I was taken to the hospital that day.

Have you been given drugs?

Yes, I was given drugs on Sunday at 6pm.

Are you saying you got drugs six days after?  

Yes, that was the situation.

How do you feel now?

I feel a bit better but I don’t feel totally okay because I am feeling nausea. But I thank God for everything.

How do you feel to be alive? 

I am grateful to God that I am alive. The government should help us, the masses, because we are really suffering. Again, as we are on admission because we went to the farm to look for food to feed our families, we got bitten by snakes in the process. It is costly to get the drug for N37,500. We had to wait since there were no drugs and some died in the process. Some even left the hospital and returned to their homes. We paid cash and we were only given the drugs after payment.

It took two weeks before I got drugs –Dorcas, 15

Dorcas Isah

Tell us about yourself.

I am Dorcas Isah aged 15 years old. I am a native of Gombe State.

What are you doing in the hospital?

I was brought to the hospital after a snake bit me. I went to the farm to work that day. I was on the farm when something sharp hit me. I fell on the floor instantly before I was lifted up by my mother. They saw later that it was a snake.

How is your health now?

I am getting better.

Have you been given any drugs?

I was given a drug last Sunday.

How long did you stay in the hospital before you got the drug?

I got the drugs after spending 11 days in the hospital but I was taking traditional medicine before the drug came.

I was harvesting maize when snake bit me — Joseph

Gabriel Joseph

What is your name?

I am Gabriel Joseph.

Where are you from?

I am from Losing village in the Shongom Local Government Area of Gombe State.

Why are you in a hospital?

I was bitten by a snake

When did it happen and where were you then?

It happened on October 30. I was on the farm where I planted maize when I noticed a snake. It was under a bag of maize I was trying to carry. I didn’t know that it was under the bag. It suddenly raised its head and bit me.

How are you feeling now?

When I got to the hospital on Sunday, there were no drugs but I was treated. Later, the drugs were brought and I was treated. I was given an injection and I am feeling better now.

How many days did you spend in the hospital while waiting to get drugs?

I waited for six days before the drugs were brought. But during the period, I was using traditional medicine and that was what helped and kept me alive.

Why did you use traditional medicine when you were in a hospital?

We had no choice but to use it, and because there was no drug no use; I had to find an alternative. After the anti-venom was brought, we stopped using it.

Which part of your body did the snake bite?

It is my hand.

Did you get the drug free of charge?

No, we paid for it.

How much did you pay?

I paid N37,500 before I was injected with it.

What do you want to tell the state government?

I want the government to make drugs available in the hospital so that victims of snake bites will be treated quickly.

Anti-venom should be free — Abdullahi

Tell us your name.

I am Alhaji Sarki Abdullahi, an uncle to Ahmadu Ibrahim.

What happened to the person you brought to the hospital?

He was in the bush when a snake bit him in his hand.

When did it happen?

It was on Wednesday in the afternoon. We had to rush him to the hospital and God helped us because we got drugs. The cases of some are worrisome because they have been in the hospital for six to eight days without getting drugs. It is a pitiful thing. You will see someone who brings in a victim of snakebite, you will end up pitying him too as he has no money to pay for the drugs.

Are you happy that you paid for the drug? 

How can I be happy to do that? We had hoped that the government would come to our plight by wiping away our tears. We were among those who worked towards ensuring the emergence of this government.

What do you want the government to do?

I want the government to supply the victims with drugs free of charge. That is when they will know that the government cares about them.

I felt a needle pierced my skin when a snake bit me — Ibrahim

Ahmadu Ibrahim

What is your name?

I am Ahmadu Ibrahim

When did you arrive in the hospital?

It was not long ago.

How do you feel?

I felt drowsy. When I was coming to the hospital, I fell and those with me had to carry me.

Where were you when the snake bit you?

I was tending my father’s cattle. I wanted to have a bath when I felt a snake bit me. I hurriedly removed my clothes because it felt like a needle pierced my skin.

I’m sad paying N37,500 for anti-venom — Victim

Aisha Ibrahim

Tell us your name?

I am Aisha Ibrahim. I am from Kwaimawa in the Alkari council area of Bauchi State.

What brought you to the hospital?

I came to be treated of snake bite.

Where were you when it bit you?

I was walking when it happened. I didn’t see it. It bit me in the leg. It happened on Saturday.

When did you get the anti-venom?

It was days after I came to the hospital. It was sold for N37,500.

How did you feel paying the money?

I am not happy paying the money. The government should help us.

My son was in pain before we got drugs –Ibrahim’s father

Muhammadu Ibrahim

What is your name?

I am Muhammadu Ibrahim, 45 years old and father of Ahmadu Ibrahim. We are from Pali in the Alkaleri LGA of Bauchi State.

How old is your son?

He is 18 years old.

What are you doing in the hospital?

We brought my son from the bush on Sunday after he was bitten by a snake as he was about to have a bath. I learnt that the snake was a big one.

Has he been given any drugs?

He was not given any drugs when we first arrived in the hospital. He was in pains and no drug to use. But we later bought the anti-venom which cost  N37,500 and he was injected. We paid for the drug before he was treated.

How do you feel about the situation?

I am unhappy about the whole thing because we came to the hospital to get help but we were not treated well. By this, the government didn’t do us well. We came to the hospital and there were no drugs and when the drugs were available, we paid to get them.

What is your plea to the government?

My cry to the government is that they should know that there are poor people in Nigeria. They should help them because they belong to us and we plead that they should help make our health better.

I borrowed to buy anti-venom for my daughter – Dorcas’ mother

Cecilia Isah

What is your name?

I am Cecilia Isah, Dorcas’ mother.

Where are you from?

I hail from Banganje in the Billiri area of Gombe State.

How is her health now?

She’s getting better but when the snake bit her, we made traditional herbs for her. We started praying when we got to the hospital and we were told that there was no drug.  The government should help us. I have other children. We have been discharged but we have to pay the loan we took to get the drug for N37,500.

Snake bit me close to my armpit — Idi

Tell us about yourself.

I am Balki Idi. I am 20 years old and from Taraba State.

What brought you to the hospital?

I was bitten by a snake

Are you okay now?

I feel better.

What part of your body did the snake bite?

It bit a part close to my armpit.

What were you doing when it bit you?

I was asleep in the night.

I’m glad the drug saved my daughter’s life —Adamu

Huraira Adamu

Tell us about yourself.

I am Huraira Adamu, mother of Ummi. I am from Jauro Yaro in the Kwami LGA of Gombe State.

What happened to your daughter?

She was bitten by a snake while playing. We didn’t get drugs for her when we got to the hospital. They told us that the drugs were for sale. We got tired of waiting and we’re about leaving the hospital when they brought it on Sunday. That was when he was injected.

Was the drug free? 

No, it wasn’t free.

How much did you pay?

We paid N37,500.

Were you happy that you paid for the drugs?

Yes, we were happy because we got the drugs that saved my daughter’s life. But we call on the government to help us and bring the drugs to the Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe. They should bring genuine and enough drugs to revive the health of the victims of snake bite.

‘I’m getting better’

What is your name?

I am Bashir Abubakar.

What brought you to the hospital?

A snake bit me last Monday. I was in a bush when the incident happened.

How do you feel now?

I am getting better.

When were you given drugs?

They gave me drugs on Wednesday when I got to the hospital.

‘Snake bit my daughter while tending our cattle’

What is your name?

I am Aisha Dio from Tungo in Adamawa State.

What brought you to the hospital?

It was to treat a snake bite for my daughter. Her name is Halima and she is nine years old.

Where was your daughter when she was bitten by the snake?

She went to tend to our cattle.

Did you get drugs for her? 

Yes, we did.

Did you pay for the drugs?

I really cannot say because I came with my husband. Even if we paid for it, he was the one who did that.

How is your daughter doing? 

She’s getting better

What part of her body did the snake bite? 

It was her leg.

We need to declare war against snakes — Medical officer

Dr. Istinfanus Bako

Dr. Istinfanus Bako is the Medical Officer and Acting Medical Superintendent of the Comprehensive Health Centre, Zamko, Lantang North Local Government Area, Plateau State. He talks with FRIDAY OLOKOR about the cases of snakebites in the state

There were cases of snakebites in Plateau, Bauchi and Gombe states leading to the deaths of victims due to lack of anti-venom. Has the situation improved?

For about a month, we have been battling with the lack of anti-venom. For people who have been aware of what is happening in Southern Plateau, especially in Lantang North, Lantang South, Mikang, Pankshin, Shendam, Kanamycin, Kanke, Quarpam and even as far as Taraba and Nasarawa states, most of them come to seek help. Our hospital covers a very large area; it is a primary source of health care to these individuals in Nasarawa, Taraba and even Plateau states.

The problem started four weeks ago when the snake anti-venom became unavailable. Before now, this hospital was filled to capacity. If it were to be a month or three weeks ago, you won’t even see a space to walk. We have stopped admitting snakebite victims because we cannot just help. Whenever they come, we usually advise them to seek assistance elsewhere because it is against my oath as a medical doctor to admit somebody that I cannot help.

What, in your view, is responsible for the increase in the number of snakes at this period?

Somehow, it is seasonal. During the cold season, the rate of snake bites is usually concentrated among people who rear animals in the bush, or young little children who go for hunting. They usually put their hands in rat holes, and you know that the snakes themselves feed on these rats. During the rainy season, the victims of snake bites are mostly farmers. So, it has always been like that. During this period of transition from heat period to harmattan, the case is skyrocketing and much because of the weather.

What do you think is responsible for the scarcity of the drugs?

It is a very complex thing because ours is primarily to do the job. You know quite well that although the drugs are produced in Costa Rica by a private company, the importation is from our people working in tandem with them.

Do you think that traditional methods of treating snakebites can help at this time?

In this part of the country, we are having serious challenges and problems. I am an African before I became a medical doctor. There are chances that some of the traditional methods may work. Ours is to ensure that they become better, but we don’t usually tell them to patronise traditional medicine as we don’t trust the process because they usually return with complications.

How can we check the deaths from snakebites?

It will be a good thing to declare war and emergency against snakes in Nigeria. I remember years back, I have a friend from Kaltungo, another area where carpet viper is common. Their king then declared that people should go and hunt for snakes. He declared war against snakes because they were killing people. The declaration of war was that if you come with a snake, there is a reward for you depending on the number of snakes you killed.

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