Consequences of neglect: analysis of the sub-Saharan African snake antivenom market and the global context

Author(s): Brown NI


Background: The worldwide neglect of immunotherapeutic products for the treatment of snakebite has resulted in a critical paucity of effective, safe and affordable therapy in many Third World countries, particularly in Africa. Snakebite ranks high among the most neglected global health problems, with thousands of untreated victims dying or becoming permanently maimed in developing countries each year because of a lack of antivenom-a treatment that is widely available in most developed countries. This paper analyses the current status of antivenom production for sub-Saharan African countries and provides a snapshot of the global situation.

Methods: A global survey of snake antivenom products was undertaken in 2007, involving 46 current and former antivenom manufacturers. Companies producing antivenom for use in sub-Saharan Africa were re-surveyed in 2010 and 2011.

Results: The amount of antivenom manufactured for sub-Saharan Africa increased between 2007 and 2010/11, however output and procurement remained far below that required to treat the estimated 300,000-500,000 snakebite victims each year. Variable potency and inappropriate marketing of some antivenoms mean that the number of effective treatments available may be as low as 2.5% of projected needs. Five companies currently market antivenom for sale in Africa; three others have products in the final stages of development; and since 2007 one has ceased production indefinitely. Most current antivenom producers possess a willingness and capacity to raise output. However inconsistent market demand, unpredictable financial investment and inadequate quality control discourage further production and threaten the viability of the antivenom industry.

Conclusion: Financial stimulus is urgently needed to identify and develop dependable sources of high-grade antivenoms, support current and emerging manufacturers, and capitalise on existing unutilised production capacity. Investing to ensure a consistent and sustainable marketplace for efficacious antivenom products will drive improvements in quality, output and availability, and save thousands of lives each year.

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