University of Melbourne

Biting back: Empowering at-risk communities to prevent and treat snakebite

Lead Organization

University of Melbourne

Parkville, State of Victoria, Australia

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Project Summary

Every five seconds someone is bitten by a snake. Its venom ravages nerves and muscle resulting in more than half-a-million deaths or life-changing disabilities annually. A disease of the poor, snakebite is a daily concern for fieldworkers, homemakers and children living and working in impoverished rural communities. Its toll is greater than any other neglected tropical disease and equal to that of prostate or cervical cancer. Yet it remains largely ignored.We have the capacity to solve this problem. Antivenoms were developed in 1896. However, up to 95% of patients don’t receive them due to poor health systems and a reliance on ineffective traditional medicines.Biting Back will use community education and new mobile technologies to reach and empower 550 million at-risk people. Built on decades of research, our global team will educate communities on treatment and prevention strategies, and train local healthcare workers to halve the impact of snakebite.

Problem Statement

Three out of every four people in the world live at-risk of snakebite. It is a daily concern for farmers, homemakers and children living in poor, rural communities. Whether, walking to school, tending gardens or fields, or simply going to the toilet - a misplaced step can be fatal. Every year, 138,000 people die as a result of snakebite. A further 400,000 are left with permanent disabilities. These injuries often affect people in their most productive years, exacerbating the poverty cycle.Living in remote areas makes getting clinical treatment difficult and highlights the importance of prevention and pre-hospital care. Simple behavior changes such as sleeping under bed-nets and wearing shoes and clothes that protect feet and lower legs, have a significant impact. As do programs that decrease transit times to health centers and train local health workers in effective snakebite first aid and airway protection. These simple solutions save thousands of lives.Cultural influences often lead bite victims to seek treatment from local traditional healers. In Africa and Asia, 65-90% of victims first seek treatment from traditional healers. These treatments are ineffective and delay urgent medical attention, increasing mortality by 1% for every hour wasted. Training healers to recognize symptoms and refer victims to health centers increases patient survival. Educating communities and strengthening health systems is the most effective way to combat this hidden health crisis. We need a game-changing investment to make this possible.

Solution Overview

Empowering and engaging communities is critical to reducing the toll of snakebite. Biting Back brings together an international coalition of in-country partners to scale local programs that have already saved thousands of lives.We will mobilize our extensive in-country networks and deepen our community-based programs across Brazil, Eswatini, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal and Papua New Guinea to reach 130 million people directly, and a further 420 million indirectly, using targeted mass media and mobile technologies. Over five years, we aim to halve the toll of snakebite and establish the tools for governments to integrate context-specific strategies into region-wide and country-wide health plans.Working in partnership with communities, we will: promote prevention; enhance prehospital care; establish locally-relevant management protocols and train healthcare workers; and, critically, work with traditional healers to increase the referral of snakebite victims to health centers. Our strategy mirrors successful approaches applied to diseases including malaria and Buruli ulcer. Our adaptive program will be rigorously monitored and evaluated to ensure that effective learnings are swiftly incorporated across the consortium. The monitoring of snakebite incidence, mortality, morbidity, time to treatment improvements, and uptake of program elements, will provide indicators of program success. Targeted mass-media campaigns will drive indirect engagement. Mobile applications will be developed and deployed to provide digital resources and connect health workers with snakebite specialists and clinicians around the world, further strengthening health systems. Biting Back will empower millions of people to prevent and treat snakebite, alleviating the suffering, stigma and poverty caused by this neglected disease.

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Project Funders

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2014 - 2018
  • Fondation Botnar, International Emergency Care Foundation, Rudolph-Geigy Foundation

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