One of the biggest killers of humans is not a disease, nor is it related to traffic accidents. It’s snakebite.
Every year around 125,000 people die from snakebite and about 40,000 more survive but with scars, amputations, and paralysis, resulting in the loss of jobs and loss of self-esteem. The great majority of snake bite victims live in rural areas in poor countries where the nearest clinic is miles away and the necessary serum may not be available. And if it is, the expense may be beyond the family’s means.
The magnitude of the snake bite epidemic is not fully understood in the major advanced countries where it is rare. As a result, little resources and research are spent on snakebite treatment. It is only in recent years that the World Health Organization listed snakebite as a ‘disease’ prolific in tropical climates.
A documentary film called Minutes to Die, directed by James Reid, describes the phenomenon of snake bite and its prevalence in mostly rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
“I dream of a more equitable world in which the advances of science and technology would benefit all human beings to fully achieve the richness of human capabilities. I hope, as a consequence of a concerted global action, no person suffering a snakebite dies or is left with permanent physical or psychological consequences.”
José María Gutiérrez, researcher at Instituto Clodomiro Picado at the University of Costa Rica.
The 78-minute film includes the work of Costa Rica’s Clodomiro Picado Institute whose research into and production of anti-venom serum has saved the lives of thousands of victims in many countries and reduced the cost of treatment which is usually covered by government health services. Clodomiro Picado Institute is part of the University of Costa Rica and works with the departments of biology, immunology, and medicine.
Reid visited the institute and filmed an interview with director Dr. Jose Maria Gutierrez.
“Here we show how a public university is producing anti-venom serums at low cost for Africa and has been doing this for a long time. Costa Rica is a savior for those who live in sub-Sahara Africa because private pharmaceutical companies sell the serum at US$140 to US$150 a bottle,” he points out.
Costa Rica sells it at cost for Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and countries ranging from Sri Lanka to Brazil. The institute works with 115 health agencies around the world in 31 countries.
Dr. Gutierrez points to factors in Costa Rica that have prevented deaths from snake bites. He lists the Clodomiro Picado Institute as fundamental in the development and production of anti-venom serum.
The serum is distributed through the national health system to hospitals (the CCSS or Caja), clinics and EBAIS (health centers). He also credits the education and training of personnel to administer treatment.
Gutierrez says that in Costa Rica there may be between 500 and 600 snakebites a year but almost no deaths.
Programs like the one here in Costa Rica could reduce snakebite deaths in other countries
The Clodomiro Picado Institute is located in Dulce Nombre de Coronado on San Jose´s east side. It began humbly in 1970 in a laboratory of San Juan de Dios hospital by “Clorito” Picado himself. The work included breaking down the poison to study how it affected humans. Then came the work of developing an antidote. The Institute continues research into poisons and their antidotes. Poison from coral snakes is different than that of bushmasters, and poisons from snakes in different climates, in Panama for example, have different markers so studies continue.
The institute distributes about 100,000 bottles of serum a year, to fifteen countries. Different types of serum are produced for different areas. Anti coral for Central America and serum EchiTab for countries in Africa. The amount of serum needed depends on the extent of bite injury and the cost is absorbed by the health services in the various countries. Each bottle contains 10 milliliters of serum.
The documentary shows families who have suffered the loss of someone with snakebite, and the living areas where snakebite is common and includes interviews with six changemakers including Sr. Gutierrez, who are working to eliminate the suffering and to prevent and treat snakebite. The film was shown at the University of Costa Rica and is mostly an educational tool.
More on the film is at www.minutestodie.com or watch the official trailer below.