Managing Director, EchiTAB Study Ltd, distributors of EchiTAB Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) in Africa, Dr. Nandul Durfa, has urged the Fedral Government to ainaugurate a factory to produce ASV to bring down its cost.
On Tuesday, Durfa told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jos that having a local factory will cheapen the cost of the product, make it available and and reduce morbidity and mortality due to snake bites.
“We sell a dose at N30,000 to clients who, in turn, sell to the patients at their own rates.
“Some patients need only one dose, but others may require up to three. It means that those that cannot afford the cost will go for traditional medicine or just resign to fate.
“If the ASV is produced in Nigeria, a dose could go for as low as N5,000,” the pioneer Chief Medical Director of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, said.
Durfa, former Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, also stated that the ASV was manufactured in United Kingdom and had continued to be expensive because of the processes involved in producing and importing it.
“Normally, we take the live snakes to Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where they are killed and their venom extracted and sent to the manufacturing site in Wales and Costa Rica. The drugs are produced there and brought to Nigeria.
“Aside the transport, the weathers are different; we must ensure that the snakes are kept in a temperature similar to what they are used to in Nigeria, so that they will not die.
“If we produce the ASV at home, we shall also ward off the heavy amounts paid in foreign exchange to technicians in the UK, because salaries are lower here,” he said.
According to Duurfa, production of the the ASV in Nigeria would be “very easy” because the consultants had shown keenness to bring the technology to the country.
“The consultants are willing to transfer the technology and also train local personnel to handle the processes. Nigeria must take full advantage of this kindness,” he added.
He also added that former President Olusegun Obasanjo authorized a production outline and cost for producing the ASV in 2006, but unfortunately, nothing had happened concerning the project.
“Obasanjo suggested that the money for the project be sourced from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fund; sadly, no money was made available for the project.”
The ASV according to Durfa had three modifications which included EchiTAB G for carpet vipers responsible for 97 per cent cases of snake bites in Nigeria, and EchiTAP Plus for carpet viper, Puff Adder and Black Cobra venom.
The ASV’s production waas tracked back to 1991 when Prof. Ransome Kuti, the then health minister, sought the assistance of David Warrel of Oxford University and David Theakston of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, two UK Professors.
“There was an acute shortage of ASV then and the minister contacted the duo.
“The production processes went through various levels of screening and 11 clinical purification trials before the drugs were certified and registered by NAFDAC.
“The clinical trials were carried out in Kaltungo General Hospital, Gombe State, Zamko Comprehensive Health Centre, Langtang and Jos University Teaching Hospital,” he revealed.
He urged the government to give special attention to producing the drugs locally because mostly the productive groups like the farmers, cattle grazers and hunters were affected by the bites.
“With government making agriculture a priority, there is a big link between this productive group and snake bites. Government must take steps to reduce the number of people being killed by this menace,” he said.
The number of snake bite victims, he said, was constantly on the rise, with an average of 16 cases each, in hospitals like Kaltungo General Hospital in Gombe, and Zamko Comprehensive Health Centre in Langtang, Plateau State.
Durfa showed deep concern over victims’ ability to rush to native doctors who he described as “the greatest enemies of snake bite victims”.
“They (native doctors) keep the victims for a very long time just to get money. By the time such victims arrive the hospital, a lot of damage would have been done.
“We have often met with some of the native doctors; some of them see EchiTAB as an enemy, but we are creating more awareness so that no snake bite victim will die when he should live,” he said.
EchiTAB, he said, was ready for a Public-Private-Partnership with government, because they have gone far in handling the project and would be prepared to give it up completely
“We are always ready to partner with government to produce the ASV and other medically relevant biological items. That cooperation will save a lot of lives,” he said.
According to World Health Organisation records an estimation of five million people are bitten by snakes each year, worldwide, with an average of 100,000 deaths.
In Africa, an estimated one million snakebites happens yearly, with Nigeria among nations worst hit.
For instance, records obtained from the Kaltungo General Hospital showed that between 2005 and 2010, a total of 12,398 snakebite victims were attended to, with 55 deaths recorded.
Many of the victims were from Gombe, Bauchi, Taraba and Adamawa States.