Scared of death, over 4,000 snakebite victims resort to self-help

…source anti-venom drugs on the streets

  • 50 vials of medicine procured from Burkina Faso –Doctor

 Hindi Livinus, Yola

Due to the acute shortage of anti-venom vaccine in the country, over 4,000 snakebite victims at the Snakebite Centre, Kaltungo Medical Centre, Gombe State have resorted to buying the vaccine on their own from drug peddlers.

Ninety-one victims of snakebite had died in the last three weeks in Plateau and Gombe states, with several others in critical condition in hospitals.

Their conditions had gone critical as doctors were unable to treat them due to the non-availability of the two main anti-venom drugs — Echitab Plus ICP Polyvalent and Echitab G Monovalent, made in Costa Rica and the United Kingdom respectively.

Stating why the drugs had been unavailable in the country, the Managing Director, Echitab Study Group, Dr. Nandul Durfa, blamed the situation on the “late placement of order [by Nigerian officials] for its production.”

Meanwhile, as the scarcity of the anti-venom drugs bites harder, findings by our correspondent, who visited the snakebite centre in Kaltungo, showed that over 4,000 patients at the centre had had to purchase a vial of the anti-venom drug for N37, 500.

Our correspondent sighted hospital records that proved the figure to be true. This means that the patients had collectively spent at least N150m on drugs that were supposed to be free.

Head of the snakebite centre, Dr. Abubakar Ballah, said over 89 people had died at the centre since January, adding that out of the figure, 25 deaths were recorded in October alone.

“Unfortunately, there was no federal or state government backup which could reduce this scarcity. Due to this, we recorded about 25 deaths in October alone. Since January till date, we have recorded 89 deaths,” he said.

Disclosing that the last free vials, which were 150, received from the Federal Government on January 3, 2017, were exhausted on February 18, 2017, Ballah said since then, more than 4,000 patients who came to the centre had resorted to self-help by purchasing the anti-venom drug on the streets, which were then used by medical attendants at the facility to treat them.

Saturday PUNCH also learnt from Ballah that some of the snakebite victims at the centre were from the neighbouring countries of the Central African Republic and Cameroon.

However, due to the high cost of the drug, our correspondent found out that some patients who were unable to afford the drug had started deserting the centre, with Ballah blaming the situation on poor planning by the Federal Government.

In a desperate move, he hinted that 50 vials of the anti-venom drugs had been procured from Burkina Faso to help alleviate the victims’ suffering.

Victims, relatives share ordeal

Umaru being treated

 Thirteen-year-old Aliyu Musa is one of the few lucky survivors at the facility, having stayed 20 days before his relatives could procure the anti-venom drug.

A Gombe State indigene, Musa shared how he had endured in anguish, writhing on the hospital floor, and having headache intermittently at the centre, until help finally came his way.

“I thought I was going to die. My head hurt a lot. I am still feeling the pain, but it has subsided,” he told our correspondent in Hausa.

Another patient at the centre, Jauro Yahya, 35, from Bauchi State, laid on the sick bed, his left limb still motionless.

His skin suffers from necrosis caused by the venom from snakebite while working on his farm over a month ago.

“I was brought to this centre while in a coma,” he said.

For the Adamawa State indigene, Esther Sarki, attending to her 63-year-old father, Maina, has not been easy. His predicament has thrown the family into “huge” debt.

She said they had spent seven days at the health centre before they were able to procure two vials of the anti-venom drug at the cost of N70, 500.

“We sold our goats to procure the drug. We are not financially buoyant, but we give God the glory that despite everything, our father is now getting well,” she lamented.

As for Nasir Umaru, a 20-year-old from Kwaya, Bayo Local Government Area of Borno State, his father, Iliya, had thought he was going to die due to the lack of anti-venom drugs.

Illiya said, “I had heard about the lack of anti-venom drug, so I didn’t mind whether I’d pay or not. I had to bring him all the way from Borno. Already, I have bought a vial of the anti-venom drug for N37, 500.

A snakebite victim, Danladi Haruna

“I am appealing to the government to come to the help of helpless citizens like us. Our coming here was not easy, but we had no choice in order to save Nasir’s life.”

Health workers devise strategy to cope with drug scarcity

One of the medical attendants at the Kaltungo Snakebite Centre, simply identified as Yunana, said about 20 cases were being recorded daily at the facility.

“Some arrive here with complications, such as anaemia and swelling. When they come like that, we give them blood transfusion and place them on antibiotics to stabilise them,” she said of the measure being adopted at the health facility to cope with the scarcity of the anti-venom drugs.

Another health worker, identified as Sardatu, said the anti-venom drugs’ scarcity had taken its toll on the patients. She pleaded with the government to prioritise making the drugs available.

“Provision of snakebite anti-venom drugs has to be captured in the budget. If anything, it should be the first in the budget,” she said.

Ballah also called on the federal and state governments to facilitate the delivery of the drugs in the country as the situation at the facility was “really terrible.”

He said, “Despite the non-availability of the drugs, we don’t turn patients back; they return on their own when we inform them there are no free drugs and that they have to purchase the drugs on their own.

“If you are in a facility like this, you want everybody who comes for treatment to go back home healthy so that you can have satisfaction. But, when patients come and there’s no drug, sometimes you cannot even sleep.”

Hope on the horizon

There’s, however, hope for snakebite victims as our correspondent gathered that the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, had contacted officials of the Gombe State Ministry of Health to come for a consignment of the anti-venom drugs.

A senior official in the state Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, who disclosed this on condition of anonymity, added that the ministry had received a cheque for the procurement of more anti-venom vaccines.

When contacted to confirm the development, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Kennedy Ishaya, did not respond to calls and text messages sent to him.

A ministry official said the commissioner was unreachable because of his participation at the national council of health meeting in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Thirteen-year-old Musa in pain

Meanwhile, Abubakar  Aliyu, who is the owner of the Abuja-based Aliyu Mega Pharmacy, the sole licensed importer of the Echitab + ICP Polyvalent and Echitab G Monovalent for the North-East, said a consignment of the anti-venom drugs was expected in the country on Friday.

Out of the supply, he disclosed that 1000 vials were meant for the North East.

He explained that the number of snakebite victims were increasing in the North-East, which was responsible for the scarcity of the drugs in the first place.

“The number of snakebite victims greatly increased in 2017. In 2015, we sold around 3000 vials. In 2016, we sold around 4,000. The number has increased in 2017. We stocked 700 vials in August and within 40 days, the supply was exhausted,” he said.

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