Antivenom Swazi Foundation aims to raise funds to treat snake bite victims in Swaziland. Snakebite is a disease of circumstance and poverty. The majority of bites are received by the rural poor and often result in loss of life, limb or the ability to work because of life changing injury. Timely treatment with appropriate antivenom, along with modern medical care can prevent, reverse or at least minimise the major clinical aspects of snake envenoming. Sadly antivenoms are incredibly expensive when compared with the average incomes of the people most likely to require them. The country of Swaziland in southern Africa is particularly affected by snakebite. An abundance of dangerously venomous snakes and an overstretched medical budget manifest in a serious snakebite problem.
The Antivenom Swazi Foundation was set up to provide “hope and cure for snakebite victims in Swaziland”. Donations allow the purchase of polyvalent antivenom which can be used to treat bites from the most regularly encountered species, not least the black mamba and Mozambique spitting cobra. Money is also used to purchase other medical supplies essential for the treatment of snakebite. Each vial of antivenom costs £45 ($70). The organisation aims to create a bank of antivenom that can be supplied free of charge to victims of snakebite throughout the country, and plans to maintain emergency stocks in two locations so that antivenom can reach any patient who needs it by road within 2 hours.
Antivenom is very expensive and unaffordable for most people in Swaziland. The cost to treat one mamba bite is about £650 ($1,000) — almost a year’s salary for many people. With a black mamba bite, paralysis can occur within 45 minutes and in Swaziland there are no hospitals with an ICU that has life support equipment. The closest hospital that is properly equipped to deal with snakebite is in South Africa, approximately 2.5 hours drive away. The border between the two countries is only open between 7am and 6pm, creating another obstacle for those who require immediate medical treatment in order to save their lives.
As well as providing free antivenom, the foundation visits schools, communities, companies and hospitals to educate people on the correct first-aid and medical treatment of snake bites. There is a desperate need to increase people’s knowledge of snakes: They need to identify and differentiate between venomous and non-venomous snakes and they must be taught what to do when they encounter a venomous snake. The foundation also provides free emergency call outs to people who need snakes removing from their property. They regularly visit schools, people’s homes and sugar cane plantations. All of the snakes are relocated away from human habitation and on a typical year this may number hundreds of snakes.