The Federal Government says there is ample stock of anti-snake venom in Nigeria, contrary to a report that the scarcity of the drug has led to the death of hundreds of people within three weeks in two states in the country.
According to the report on Sunday by the News Agency of Nigeria, 250 people died in Plateau and Gombe states from snake bites because there was no anti-snake venom to treat them.
According to the report, scores of snake-bite patients were lying helpless in critical conditions at three medical centres in General Hospital, Kaltungo, Ali Mega Pharmacy, Gombe and Comprehensive Medical Centre, Zamko, Plateau State.
The report said some of the patients were left on the bare floor by doctors who said there was nothing they could do to help without anti-venom.
According to the NAN report, Echitab Plus ICP polyvalent and Echitab G monovalent anti-snake-venom drugs had not been supplied to Nigeria since August, throwing the treatment centers into crisis after the last vials were used up in the first week of October.
Echitab Plus ICP, produced at Instituto Clodomiro Picado, University of Costa Rica, treats bites from all venomous snakes in Nigeria, while Echitab G, produced by Micropharm Ltd, United Kingdom, is solely for carpet viper bites.
Medics, who spoke with the news agency at the three treatment centers, said that the cases of snake bites were usually very common during the harvest season.
However, Plateau State Commissioner of Health, Kunden Kamshak, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, denied that anti-snake venom was not available in the state.
The commissioner described the report as malicious.
He also disputed the claim that many people had died in the state as a result of snake bite, saying as custodians of such information, verification of the claim should have been made by the government.
“We have a teaching hospital and where we have a lot of cases of snake bite is in the southern part of Plateau State,” Mr. Kamshak said.
He said Zamko Comprehensive Centre in the area is an outlet of the Jos University Teaching Hospital handling such cases.
“It is like a special center for snake bite where people are being treated and there is no point in time that you go there and they lack anti-snake venom. It is just that sometimes people cannot afford the cost, but that has not been an impediment to treatment,” he said.
Mr. Kamshak also denied that the drugs were not available at Pankshin, one of the places at which the NAN report said many had died.
The commissioner said Pankshin is his home local government area, stressing that there was no way there would be a scarcity of the drug in the area without his being aware of it
Mr. Kashak said under the reporting system in the state’s health sector, disease surveillance and notification officers in all the 17 local government areas of the state report daily to the state surveillance team, which in turn reports to his office on a daily basis.
Responding to inquiries by PREMIUM TIMES over the report of 250 deaths, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, also denied that Nigeria had run out of stock of anti-snake venom.
The minister, whose office later issued a press statement over the matter on Monday, said if there was shortage of anti-snake venom in any state in Nigeria, it implied that the state in question had “refused to comply with the new procedure of request, hence their inability to access the product from the ministry”.
Mr. Adewole said the ministry still has vials of anti-snake venom stocked from its 2016 procurement and from which states and other treatment centers were being issued upon request.
Although the minister disclosed that the 2017 procurement of the drugs had some hitches because the funding was mistakenly transferred to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), he said five states had made requests and were issued the drugs in the four months previous to September 6 this year.
Mr. Adewole called on states where snake bite is prevalent to invest in the procurement of anti-snake venom for their people.
He warned that the Federal Government cannot continue indefinitely to procure and distribute the drugs free to states as being currently practiced.
“The Federal Government is, however, working on Public Private Partnership arrangement for local production of anti-snake bite venom, which will make the product available affordable and accessible,” the minister said.