NAIROBI — Earlier this year, in Gombe state, Nigeria, health workers injected 35 vials of anti-venom into a patient who was bitten by a snake. It didn’t work.
This is because the government imported and distributed an ineffective product, providing it to patients at no cost, according to Dr. Abdulrazaq Habib, head of the Nigeria Snakebite Research & Intervention Centre and professor of infectious and tropical diseases at Bayero University, Kano.
The patient was only saved after his relatives bought an $80 vial of a more reliable anti-venom — a practice that often pushes families to sell off livestock or other assets so they can afford to save a relative’s life.
For health care workers, treating snakebites has been a complicated and often unsuccessful process, involving many different anti-venoms that vary in effectiveness. Currently, a person needs to receive the correct anti-venom to match the type of snake that bit them, but many health clinics are not able to stock a collection of different types.
Now, a global team of researchers is trying a new approach: working to create a more effective and safer treatment through monoclonal antibodies — a form of medicine that is based on the body’s antibody response but replicated in labs and mass-produced — that they hope will combat the toxic impacts of a broad range of snake venoms, all in one treatment.
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