How can the world run out of a medicine?
The most powerful snakebite treatment can neutralize the venom from ten different snakes. It is routinely used and saves thousands of lives every year. Yet believe it or not, the world is about to run out.
The antidote is known as Fav-Afrique and Medicins Sans Frontieres says new stocks are desparetly needed. The last batch was produced over a year ago and will expire in June 2016. There is no comparable replacement.
“Most people who get bitten by a snake aren’t exactly sure what kind of snake it is that bit them and so having an anti-venom that works against a variety of different species is really important,” said Polly Markandya of MSF. “We are worried that without that anti-venom available, people will die unnecessarily.”
Without this broad use anti-venom, countless number of people will suffer and die.
How can the world run out of a medicine? It turns out that the manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, was priced out of the market last year. The company now focuses on producing anti-rabies treatments.
Although other antidotes exist, MSF says that Fav-Afrique is the only drug which is safe and effective to use against snakebites caused by some of the most dangerous snakes across Sub-Saharan Africa. In short, the alternatives are just not good.
Sanofi has said it is willing to sell the recipe for Fav-Afrique and is in currently in negotiations with another drug company. However, the deal will not be finalized until 2016.
These drawn out talks combined with the slow process of setting up shop and producing the drug means that it will be nearly two years before more of the antidote will be available on the market.
Every year, as many as five million people around the world are bitten by snakes- 100,000 die and 400,000 are left permanently disabled or disfigured. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 30,000 people die from snakebites each year; 8,000 survive but require amputations.
The World Health Organization has admitted that the threat of snakebites is often a neglected issue that deserves more attention and greater investment.