By Ephraims Sheyin
Dr. Nandul Durfa, Managing Director, EchiTAB Study Ltd, distributors of EchiTAB Anti-Snake Venom (ASV) in Africa, has urged the Federal Government to establish an ASV producing factory to reduce its cost.
Durfa told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Jos that a local factory would make the product cheap and available, and reduce morbidity and mortality owing 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, said that the ASV was produced in United Kingdom and had remained expensive because of the processes involved in manufacturing 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.
Durfa said that local production of ASV would be “very easy” in Nigeria because the consultants had expressed their readiness to transfer 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 said that former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved a production plan and cost for manufacturing the ASV in 2006, but regretted that nothing came out it.
“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.”
Durfa explained that the ASV had three variants including 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.
He traced the ASV’s production to 1991, when Prof. Ransome Kuti, then health minister, sought the assistance of two UK Professors – David Warrel of Oxford University and David Theakston of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
“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 advised government to pay special attention to local production of the drug because snake bites affect mostly the productive group like the farmers, cattle grazers, hunters and rat-hunting youths.
“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.
He said that the number of snake bite victims was steadily 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 expressed deep concern over victims’ tendency 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.
He said that EchiTAB was prepared for a Public-Private-Partnership with government as it had gone far in the handling of the product and would not be ready to completely surrender it.
“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.
Worldwide, an estimated five million people are bitten by snakes each year, with an average of 100,000 deaths, according to World Health Organisation records.
In Africa, an estimated one million snakebites occur annually, with Nigeria among nations worst hit.
Records obtained from the Kaltungo General Hospital, for instance, 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.