More than four million people around the world are bitten by snakes each year. At least one hundred twenty-five thousand of these people die. Almost three million others are seriously injured. Doctors and researchers say the world does not provide enough good treatment for poisonous snakebites. To help improve the situation, experts have formed an international project called the Global Snakebite Initiative.
Poisonous snakebites are common in rural areas of many developing countries with hot climates. Many victims are agricultural workers and children in Asia and southern Africa. Shortages of antivenom medicines, the treatment for snakebite, are common there. Existing supplies may not be high quality or developed correctly for local needs.
Ken Winkel directs the University of Melbourne's Australian Venom Research Unit. Doctor Winkel and university scientist David Williams are among the organizers of the Global Snakebite Initiative. Other project leaders are from Britain, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and Singapore.
The International Society of Toxinology officially supported the Initiative last month at the World Congress of Plant, Animal and Microbial Toxins in Recife, Brazil.
Doctor Winkel says antivenom treatment is too costly for many poor people who need it most. The drugs are developed from the venom of poisonous snakes.
The Global Snakebite Initiative is trying to increase the availability of good quality antivenom treatments and improve medical training for patient care. Another goal is to help manufacturers of antivenom medicines improve their products.
The project also wants communities to learn about snakebites and first aid. It wants more research and reporting systems. And it aims to help national health officials choose antivenoms for their countries' special needs.
The antivenom that cures the bite of one kind of snake may not be effective for another kind of snake. And the medicines for a cobra bite in the Philippines may not work for someone bitten by a similar snake in West Africa.
Experts look forward to improvements in worldwide treatment for snakebite. But they say the best ways to reduce death and injury from snakebites are education and prevention.
And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.