101 in Every 100,000 Ugandans Suffer Snake Bite Injuries Each Year-Survey

Reading Time: 2 minutes

101 people in every 100,000 Ugandans suffer snakebite injuries. This is according to Uganda’s first-ever survey to establish among others the incidence of snakebite injuries in the country.

Dr John Ddamulira, the Principal Investigator on the study conducted across six districts of Arua, Gulu, Kamuli, Kasese, Nakapiripirit, and Mubende last year revealed on Wednesday that while a lot of people die of injuries with a mortality rate estimated at  560 per 100,000 people, only 1.4%   seek proper medical care for the injuries.

He said apart from determining the extent of snakebite injuries, they went out to establish what people know about the public health problem, how health workers treat envenoming and what people do as first aid when they are bitten. Only 0.1% of the people had correct knowledge of what to do when bitten.

The survey was conducted in July and August 2020 where the research team collected data from 1,080 households, 41 Key Informants, and records review from 29 health facilities.

In every 100 households they visited, 30 people confessed to having been ever bitten by a snake whereby Gulu and Nakapiripirit had the highest incidence.

Ddamulira who is also a researcher at the Makerere University School of Public Health says the majority of the people didn’t go to the hospital for care and yet even those that went were either handled by health workers that haven’t received training on envenoming care or went to facilities with no Standard Operating Procedures for emergency care for snakebite injuries.

93% of the facilities didn’t have guidelines and yet anti-venom, the drug needed for care was only available in four hospitals at the level of regional referral facility.

This finding according to James Ntulume, a conservationist behind an NGO Snakes Uganda is unfortunate especially that most of the injuries happen deep in villages where transport to a referral hospital can be quite a challenge and yet treatment is a race against time. 

He says for some snake bites, the sufferer can die in less than 30 minutes if they don’t get the timely proper care.

According to Ntulume, this data comes in handy as there hasn’t been concrete data on the extent of the problem in Uganda which has, as a result, affected prioritization of availing anti-venoms at lower health facilities. He says a vial of antivenom imported from South Africa goes for not less than 1 Million Shillings and yet a person may require more vials depending on the snake that has injured them.

Dr Alfred Mubangizi, the Assistant Commissioner Neglected Tropical Diseases says that now that they have data, they will fast track the strategy that they have for the last five years been drafting but didn’t know what to prioritize because of scanty information.

Globally, 2.7million people suffer from envenoming each year. Recently, the World Health Organisation-WHO recommended to countries to come up with strategies for eliminating envenoming by 2030 with the problem being listed among 20 public health concerns that are largely neglected.

The researchers recommend developing and distribution of guidelines and protocols on not just emergency care in community and health facilities but also update the section of snakebite management in the Ministry’s clinical guidelines that don’t rhyme with the reality on the ground.