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Top snake center launches free helpline to treat snakebite victims across Kenya

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Kenya’s leading snake farm has launched emergency services and free treatment to stem the 4,000 deaths yearly by snake bites.

Watamu Snake Farm is giving snakebite victims free emergency first aid services over the phone, information on where to get treatment, and offering free medical services to poor coastal residents.

Snakes alone account for about half of human-animal conflict and deaths in Kenya. It is estimated that 20,000 Kenyans are bitten by snakes every year. 4,000 of these people die and 7,000 suffer from snake venom-induced health complications according to the Institute of Primate Research (IPR). 

Snakebites and snake-caused deaths disproportionally affect farmers, cattle herders, and other agricultural workers in poor rural communities. 

“The figures on deaths and health issues caused by snakebites in Kenya are underreported (60% of snakebite victims do not seek hospital treatment). This is because a lot of cases of snakebites occur to poor people in rural remote villages when they are tilling their land or herding their cows. They often do not formally report to hospitals but rather opt for ineffectual remedies,” said Kyle Ray, the curator of Watamu Snake Farm.

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Through its toll-free emergency numbers (+254 729 403 599, +254 723 386 558) the farm offers round-the-clock first aid guidance to anyone bit by a snake in Kenya. They also guide patients to the nearest antivenom-stocked hospital and doctors experienced in dealing with snake bite victims. Its local and global network of doctors in Kenya also guides physicians when dealing with snake bites on the best course of treatment.

Ideally, every Kenyan Level 4 hospital should have antivenom ready for any patient who walks through their doors. In actuality, many hospitals especially in areas where snake attacks are common such as Kitui, face antivenom shortages and are not resupplied with these life-saving antiserums at a timely pace. 

Once patients get to hospitals, one vial of antivenom can cost them Sh7,000 to Sh6,000. “To treat a Black Mamba bite 10 vials serve as a starting dose. This does not include the cost of other drugs the patient will need, doctor fees, or inpatient costs. That is a massive bill for many Kenyans,” Kyle said.

These steep costs often see people opt for ‘traditional’ remedies such as visits to witch doctors and using snakestones or blackstones which Kyle warns despite what you have read or been told will not treat snakebites. You will die!

Through the Taylor Ashe Anti-venom Foundation, he is working to set up free treatment services for those who cannot afford them.

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This is currently available to people in Watamu and as far out as Malindi two to three hours away.

Through their Snake Awareness Training programme they have educated more than 2,000 Kenyans– many of who live in areas with heightened human-snake conflict– on how to identify venomous snakes, perform snakebite first-aid, and also given them a hands-on demonstration of how to handle and remove venomous snakes.

Photos Courtesy: Watamu Snake Farm

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