Tuesday, March 26, 2013

World expert calls on PNG to recognise snakebite problem

The National
Monday, March 25, 2013

One of the world’s leading snakebite experts has called on the Papua New Guinea government to give snakebite the high priority it deserves.
Professor David Warrell, the world’s leading clinical toxinologist, principally famous for his work on prospective studies of snakebite in tropical developing countries, including PNG, made the call last Friday as he is in the country to set up clinical trials for a new anti-venom for the deadly Papua Taipan at Port Moresby General Hospital.
The Papuan Taipan is responsible for nearly all serious snakebites in Central, NCD and Eastern part of Gulf.-Picture by DAVID WILLIAMS

He also holds an appointment as Professor Emeritus of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford.
Project coordinator, David “Snakeman” Williams, estimated that about 200 people per year died from snakebite in PNG per year, but this was those who came into hospital, and the figures were much, much higher, as those who died were from rural areas, particularly Western province, who do not have the luxury of health services.
“David Williams and I and other well-meaning figures, who are devoted to this country can plead the cause of snakebite, that more resources should be provided, that snakebite should be given higher priority in the public health agenda of PNG,” Prof Warrell told The National.
“That’s all very well, but I don’t think it will be taken very seriously as a problem until a very senior Papua New Guinean, perhaps the minister for health or other health official, or even the prime minister, points out that this is a very serious and unusual medical problem facing the country.
“It’s a problem that affects some of the poorest people in the country, the rural people, and very-valuable people such as the farmers.
“I don’ think that this problem will ever be given sufficient attention in PNG until the Papua New Guineans themselves take this on, and protest and proclaim, that it is an important health issue.”
Williams said about 3,500 people were bitten by snakes around PNG per year, of which 1,400 actually become ill.
“Of the 1,400 who do actually get sick, we know that at least 200 of them die every year right around the country,” he said.
“That’s just the ones who get to a health centre.
“If you’re in Western province, roughly five people die outside hospital for every one person who dies in it, so if you have 50 deaths in a year in Western province health centres, probably another 250 people die in villages, in canoes along the river on their way to health centres, or being carried through the jungle.
“Even here in Central province, we’ve done some village-based surveys where we go and ask the ward councillor and health workers ‘how many cases do you know of where somebody has died who didn’t come to the health centre, and there’s probably three times more people dying outside the health centre than actually dying in the health centre.”

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