Snakebite

Herp Fauna Foundation determined to mitigate human-snake conflict in Uganda

(Last Updated On: 20 February 2024)

Gulu I Across Uganda, getting bitten by a snake is nothing unusual while killing it is something common among men – right from the Garden of Eden as written in the Bible.

The Ministry of Health in Uganda claims that from mid-2020 to 2022, there was an increase in the incidence of animal bites including snakebites, and more people are dying of them.

For more than three months now, Herp Fauna Foundation and Dancing Cup, Bugolobi in Kampala, has been holding themed events towards protecting our environment and mitigating human-snake conflict.

“The increase in numbers of snakebites and human-snake conflict is due to humans encroaching on the habitat of snakes; by farming in swamps, clearing forests for farming and many others,” Emmanuel Mukasa, Executive Director of Herp Fauna Foundation, says.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where data is widely considered underreported, up to 1 million people are bitten by snakes each year, with estimates of 7,000 to 20,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Mukasa said that many people who survive snake bites are left with amputated limbs and other permanent disabilities while the snakes are usually killed.

“What we are doing is to educate people on how they can handle snakes and other reptiles because we have to change our mindset first; we are the ones encroaching on their habitats,” Mukasa said.

According to Mukasa, people should live in harmony with the snake and should not kill the snakes but rather handle them well and return them to their habitat.

In Uganda, 32 per cent of households surveyed by Makerere University in 2020 reported ever having a case of snakebite in their family. The survey put the incidence of snakebites at 101 per 100,000 people for the previous year.

“People who live in rural areas are more vulnerable to snakebites, particularly those involved in agricultural work, and we appeal to our people to live in harmony with the snakes; if you see them, you should not kill them but call us so that we swing into action to rescue them and relocate them back to their habitat,” Mukasa told tndNews.

However, despite the rise in snakebites, many health workers in Uganda are not trained to deal with medical emergencies, and only 4 per cent of health facilities in the public, mission and private sectors stock anti-venoms.

“A venomous snake can be determined by looking at its fangs, or the fang marks at the bite site. Two puncture wounds are indicative of venomous snakes while non-venomous snakes leave multiple bites,” Mukasa said.

snakebiteBlack-necked spitting cobra, found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

“What we are doing in Uganda is to mitigate that gap between the people, the human-snake conflict. We are trying to take away that gap by educating the community,” Mukasa said when asked.

In 2017, the World Health Organization added snakebite envenomation to its priority list of neglected tropical diseases. A year later, Uganda came up with a national snakebite prevention and management strategy to address the issue.

However, the plan has yet to be implemented due to several challenges including an unstable and inadequate anti-venom supply chain.

John Opolot, Assistant Commissioner-Veterinary Health and Zoonoses, said in an earlier interview with the publication that both the cost and unavailability of anti-venoms in health facilities are the result of a lack of snake-specific data for the country.

“Anti-venoms cost between shs100,000 and shs150,000 ($27 to $40) while antimalarial drugs, by contrast, cost shs20,000 ($5). The cost of anti-venoms may be equivalent to some drugs treating 100 malaria patients; it calls for a special project to handle the availability of antivenoms,” Opolot said.

“Some anti-venoms are already available; they only need to discuss how to ensure they reach the people who need them, the ministry is developing a strategic plan that will help source funds,” he added.

Juliet Adoch is an herbalist. She said that there is a dilemma facing most people who experience snakebites in Uganda, citing that common beliefs say that snakebites are a result of witchcraft or warnings from ancestral spirits.

“People believe it is a local disease that can best be treated locally by traditional healers who have existed way before modern medicine came and many choose to first go to a traditional healer or herbalist, before a hospital or clinic,” Adoch told tndNews.

Mukasa trains community members on handling snakes

The implementation of the strategy adopted by Uganda in 2018 is taking a snail’s pace owing to serious gaps relating to the absence of country baseline data on snakebite burden and incidence, the snakes involved and their distribution, characteristics of the bites, community knowledge and practices, and health facility capacity to manage snakebites.

Snakebite
Mukasa (m) trains community members on handling snakes.

Globally, 2.7 million people are bitten by snakes, and 125,000 die of snake bites annually. The majority of these medical emergencies occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Uganda has more than 80 species of snakes but only 5 per cent are venomous and they include Egyptian cobra, Black mamba, Black forest cobra and Blanding tree snake with acute levels of venom toxicity.

Others are the Gabon viper, Puff adder, Black-necked spitting cobra; Vine tree/twig snake, and Rhinoceros viper, while some of the non-venomous snakes include Blind snake, Spotted bush snake; Rock python, Battersby; House snake all largely distributed in all regions across the country.

Further, Uganda is blessed with some of the amazing natural flora and fauna with the economic and environmental value of keeping the natural areas intact. This is extremely important and can provide sustainable jobs for thousands of Ugandans, according to the Herp Fauna Foundation.

Herp Fauna Foundation was founded in 2020, to empower the people of Uganda, with knowledge and skills to live harmoniously with wildlife, especially reptiles.

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