How snakes killed 250 Nige­ri­ans in 3 weeks

A sud­den wave in snake bite deaths re­cently blew across some states in the coun­try, es­pe­cially Gombe and Plateau. Our cor­re­spon­dents deepen the story, with ex­pla­na­tions from ex­perts on the spike, in­for­ma­tion on vic­tims and how states and the fed­eral gover

Weekly Trust - - News Cover - Bashir Li­man, Jos & Haruna Gimba Yaya, Gombe

Tack­ling health epi­demics in Nige­ria is a tough job, even with some­times in­ad­e­quate per­son­nel, leav­ing cit­i­zens help­less in many in­stances. Nige­ria has gone through many phases of han­dling health crises with the lat­est be­ing mon­key pox. By Oc­to­ber 25, there were 94 sus­pected cases in 11 states. They in­clude

Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ek­iti, Enugu, Imo, La­gos, Nasarawa, Niger, Rivers and the Fed­eral Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory (FCT). The Min­is­ter of State Health, Dr Os­agie Ehanire, said though there were no fa­tal­i­ties, mon­key pox seems fright­en­ing. Last year, the out­break of menin­gi­tis ‘C’ in mostly north­ern states killed 813 peo­ple out of the 8000 sus­pected cases. How­ever, in 2014, the case of Ebola was quickly con­tained. There is a cur­rent com­plaint over in­ad­e­quate an­tivenom to tackle snake bites in some states. Snake Bite Ward de­serted in Plateau hos­pi­tal

In Plateau, the Com­pre­hen­sive Health Cen­tre, Zamko in Lang­tang North Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of the state was es­tab­lished in 1996 by Jos Uni­ver­sity Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal (JUTH) to among other cases be re­spon­si­ble for treat­ing snake bite pa­tients.

But re­cently, the Snake Bite Ward at the cen­tre was de­serted be­cause of lack of an­tivenom to treat pa­tients. Some res­i­dents of Zamko told Daily Trust that re­cently, many vic­tims of snake bite brought to the hos­pi­tal from Plateau, Taraba, Benue and Nasarawa states died. How­ever, an of­fi­cial at the hos­pi­tal de­bunked the re­port, say­ing only two pa­tients lost their lives while the oth­ers didn’t die at their cen­tre. An­other of­fi­cial said about 10 peo­ple died out­side the hos­pi­tal af­ter the cen­tre re­jected them due to lack of anti-venom.

Ac­cord­ing to the “Ad­mis­sion & Dis­charge Reg­is­ter” of the cen­tre ob­tained by Daily Trust, in the past three months, it ad­mit­ted a to­tal num­ber of 256 peo­ple. They in­clude 115 men, 95 women and 46 chil­dren.

In Au­gust 2017, 62 were ad­mit­ted - 30 men, 20 women and 12 chil­dren be­tween the ages of four and seven years while in Septem­ber, 86 were ad­mit­ted - 35 men, 35 women and 16 chil­dren be­tween the ages of six and 10 years. In Oc­to­ber, 108 were ad­mit­ted in­clud­ing 50 men, 40 women and 18 chil­dren be­tween the ages of two and 10 years.

A med­i­cal of­fi­cer at the cen­tre said the sud­den up­surge in snake bites was as a re­sult of lack of anti-venom in the hos­pi­tal.

“It is not a sud­den rise, it has been there, is just that peo­ple are not privy to in­for­ma­tion in the ru­ral area. It has be­come ram­pant be­cause of the lack of anti-venom. For al­most a month now, there was no an­tivenom in the hos­pi­tal,” he said.

Nansak Nimze, 34, from Kap­she who lost his daugh­ter to snake bite, said the in­ci­dent hap­pened when his daugh­ter, Ya­chit, went to the farm for har­vest last week Satur­day.

“I was in Lang­tang when my wife called me that a snake had bit­ten our daugh­ter while they were work­ing in the farm and they took her to the hos­pi­tal in Zamko. I rushed to the hos­pi­tal and the doc­tors told us there was no anti-venom to give to her,” he said.

A vic­tim, Lokhfa James, 32, a teacher, said he spent about N74,000 to sur­vive snake bite. “The snake bit me around 7pm on Septem­ber 27, 2017,” he said.

James, who teaches at the Cobertive Pres­ti­gious Academy, said he was un­con­scious when his friends took him to the hos­pi­tal.

“I felt as if I was on fire as the poi­son moved in­side me. I was vom­it­ing as my friends moved me to the hos­pi­tal. I was afraid not know­ing what would hap­pen to me. I wed­ded a few months be­fore then and I kept think­ing about my wife,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the doc­tors bought four anti-venom drugs at N9,000 each from a source but they weren’t work­ing. He said he had to or­der the anti-venom from Jos for N38,000.

He added that two women who were ad­mit­ted same day died.

“The doc­tors gave one woman about nine in­jec­tions, but she even­tu­ally died. A man also bled to death due to lack of anti-venom,” James noted.

An­other vic­tim, Ruth Zingfa, also a teacher, said she spent about N152,000 to be treated when the snake bit her on the right leg at the farm on Septem­ber 5 at Jimokfi.

She said she wit­nessed seven deaths be­cause some of the vic­tims didn’t have money to buy the anti-venom. The coun­cilor rep­re­sent­ing Zamko Ward in the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, Nankpah Rim­dan, said the is­sue of snake bites and anti-venom were dis­cussed in a town hall meet­ing two weeks ear­lier.

The Chair­man, Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee of Lang­tang North Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area, Brian Dadi, urged the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to fully equip the hos­pi­tal with anti-venom so that peo­ple wouldn’t be con­fused on where to re­ceive treat­ment.

“The fed­eral gov­ern­ment should al­ways

be prompt and make sure that the short­age of anti-venom comes to an end be­cause peo­ple are dy­ing,” he said.

The Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of the Cen­tre, Is­ti­fanus Bako, said for al­most a month there was no anti-venom in the hos­pi­tal.

He said dur­ing the cold sea­son, in­ci­dences of snake bites are very low but that chil­dren are usu­ally bit­ten by snakes when they put their hands in holes hunt­ing for rats.

He added that from March to the be­gin­ning of the rainy sea­son the pa­tients cut across the dif­fer­ent age groups due to the harsh weather which makes snakes to come out of their holes due to the heat.

On why the Snake Bite Ward was empty, he said the hos­pi­tal didn’t have any case of in-pa­tients be­cause it didn’t have anti-venom and it is un­eth­i­cal to ad­mit when there are no drugs to take care of vic­tims.

He dis­closed that when there was an­tivenom in their cen­tre, they could ad­mit about 10 to 15 pa­tients daily.

“In the last three weeks, we did not treat any pa­tient be­cause of lack of anti-venom and I can’t tell the rea­son why the anti-venom is not avail­able and be­cause of its scarcity about two have peo­ple died,” Bako said.

He con­firmed that they sold the an­tivenom at N38,000 and some­times, one dose wouldn’t work, and the pa­tient would be given two or three doses.

“We have two types of anti-venom drugs which in­clude poly­va­lent and mono­va­lent and both aren’t avail­able which makes our work dif­fi­cult and frus­trat­ing,” he added.

In the last three weeks, about 22 peo­ple have died while on ad­mis­sion at the Cen­tre for Anti Venom Treat­ment and Re­search of the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Kal­tungo in Gombe State, our cor­re­spon­dent re­ports.

The fig­ure was recorded as a re­sult of lack of anti-venom drugs hith­erto given free to vic­tims of snake bite who thronged the cen­tre from neigh­bour­ing states.

The drug and other lines of treat­ment were given to vic­tims free by the fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments since 1999 when the cen­tre was es­tab­lished.

Mr Garba Bawa of Kal­tungo Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Gombe State lost his 18-year-old son when he was ad­mit­ted in the hos­pi­tal for over three days with­out get­ting the anti-venom.

“A snake bit my son when he was col­lect­ing maize from the farm around noon on that fate­ful day. We rushed him im­me­di­ately to the hos­pi­tal but we were told that there was no anti-venom. He spent three days and we had to leave when we re­al­ized that his con­di­tion was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. He died two days af­ter we left the hos­pi­tal,” Bawa said.

Sev­eral oth­ers were also feared to have died af­ter they left the hos­pi­tal when they could not get the life­sav­ing free drugs sup­plied to the cen­tre.

Ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial fig­ures ob­tained by over 77 peo­ple have died from var­i­ous cases of snake bite in the past one month due to the non-avail­abil­ity of the anti-venom.

“About 77 pa­tients left the hos­pi­tal dur­ing the cri­sis, and we are afraid that most of them couldn’t sur­vive due to the bad state they were brought to the hos­pi­tal be­fore they left,” a source at the hos­pi­tal told

How­ever, of­fi­cial fig­ures at the hos­pi­tal re­vealed that 22 peo­ple were con­firmed dead in the past three weeks while on ad­mis­sion at the hos­pi­tal. The data showed that Gombe State recorded fewer deaths be­cause vic­tims from far places were mostly af­fected as they usu­ally ar­rived the hos­pi­tal late and in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

The med­i­cal of­fi­cer in charge of the cen­tre, Dr Abubakar Sa’idu Balla, said the num­ber of deaths was rel­a­tively small for Gombe be­cause of the prox­im­ity of the hos­pi­tal to the peo­ple.

He said the cen­tre serves the 11 en­demic lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Gombe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Taraba, Plateau and Ji­gawa states as well as Camer­oun.

He said the num­ber of vic­tims ad­mit­ted at the cen­tre had fallen to 10 daily from 12 be­cause drugs were out of stock.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data from the hos­pi­tal, from Jan­uary to Septem­ber, about 87 to 89 pa­tients died while re­ceiv­ing treat­ment. But in Oc­to­ber alone, when the hos­pi­tal ex­pe­ri­enced drug short­age, no fewer than 22 deaths were recorded.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions by re­vealed that there was a high num­ber of pa­tients bit­ten by snakes from March, April and May when peo­ple were ac­tive in farms in prepa­ra­tion for the rainy sea­son. There was also a high in­flux be­tween Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber, when they go for har­vest. Dr Balla said dur­ing these pe­ri­ods, the cen­tre re­ceived as many as 20 pa­tients daily.

Ac­cord­ing to him, if vic­tims come on time, about 100 per cent of them would be treated, but if they ar­rive late and in bad state, the chances of sur­vival would be slim.

“When peo­ple bring pa­tients and they learn that we don’t have drugs, they just leave and other peo­ple upon hear­ing that they would stop com­ing to the hos­pi­tal. Stock out is a se­ri­ous chal­lenge be­cause when­ever it hap­pens, the case of mor­tal­ity in­creases. The stock out has en­tered its third week. But the hos­pi­tal has got­ten a lit­tle re­lief sup­ply, and it is not free, pa­tients have to pay for it,” he said.

Sixty-five-year-old Malam Abubakar Yusuf, said when­ever there was avail­abil­ity of drugs, he didn’t fear go­ing to farm be­cause in the event of a snake bite, he would be treated free.

“Be­cause the snake bite is con­nected with farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, the more there are free drugs, the more peo­ple will be troop­ing to the hos­pi­tal. In fact, some peo­ple don’t even go to farm if there are no drugs.

“So when­ever there is drug stock out, peo­ple are afraid to go to farm. In other words, to get the much needed food se­cu­rity, there is need for the coun­try to be pro­duc­ing these drugs,” Malam Yusuf said.

A 13-year-old boy, Aliyu Musa, was rushed to hos­pi­tal in state of coma. He was bit­ten by a snake for over a week, but was not taken to the hos­pi­tal un­til his con­di­tion wors­ened.

His brother, Ibrahim Musa, said they ap­plied herbs but re­al­ized that his con­di­tion was get­ting worse and de­cided to “try the hos­pi­tal”.

Ibrahim said when they ar­rived, they were in­formed that there was no longer free drugs and spent over N75,000 to pur­chase the drugs and he sta­bi­lized.

Malam Abubakar Ab­dul­lahi brought his 15-year-old son, Basiru, af­ter try­ing var­i­ous herbs to no avail in Fu­tuk vil­lage of Al­ka­leri Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Bauchi State be­fore he fi­nally took the boy to hos­pi­tal.

“When he was bit­ten, we tried var­i­ous herbs be­fore we fi­nally came here,” he said.

Our cor­re­spon­dent ob­served that apart from the non-avail­abil­ity of drugs, the cen­tre it­self is in a very de­plorable con­di­tion and over-stretched. There is no blood bank in case of an emer­gency, with an epilep­tic power sup­ply. Some pa­tients were seen sleep­ing on the floor.

A worker said the hos­pi­tal had prob­lem of bed space dur­ing the pe­riod of high in­flux of pa­tients. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Balla, the hos­pi­tal needs at least 21 nurses and at­ten­dants each for the male and fe­male wards who should work in shifts.

“There is in­ad­e­quate man­power com­pared to the num­ber of pa­tients. Even though some nurses are on course, we still need more hands, now we have only eight nurses, eight at­ten­dants and only one med­i­cal doc­tor,” he said.

“The only so­lu­tion is fre­quent sup­ply and pos­si­ble pro­duc­tion of anti-snake venom in the coun­try. At­tempts have been made to elim­i­nate the snakes, but it turned out to be dis­as­trous be­cause the snakes are crea­tures that are made to bal­ance the ecosys­tem.

“The snakes are re­duc­ing the num­ber of ro­dents and in­sects that are af­fect­ing farms. If the snakes are killed, that will have neg­a­tive ef­fect on the crops that are har­vested. Ro­dents will dev­as­tate the farms,” Dr Balla added.

A lec­turer at the Depart­ment of Ge­og­ra­phy, Gombe State Uni­ver­sity, Gombe, Malam Ibrahim Ya­haya, said the area was in­fested with snakes be­cause it is a dry land, rocky and Sa­hel with low veg­e­ta­tion.

“The snakes lay their eggs on the rocks where they are hatched. The area is also fer­tile, as such there are farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties al­ways which give the snakes ro­dents and in­sects to feed on,” he said.

Re­act­ing to the non-avail­abil­ity of the anti-venom, the Gombe State Com­mis­sioner for Health, Dr Kennedy Ishaya, said the cen­tre ran short of sup­ply be­cause more peo­ple were troop­ing in to get the free drugs.

“In the whole of the North­east zone, only Gombe is pro­vid­ing the anti-venom free, there­fore peo­ple are over­stretch­ing the cen­tre and ex­hausted the avail­able drugs be­cause the treat­ment is en­tirely free,” he said.

The com­mis­sioner said the state gov­ern­ment had re­leased N8.8 mil­lion to the cen­tre to pro­cure the drugs.

“In ad­di­tion, the state gov­ern­ment has also built a multi-bil­lion naira ul­tra­mod­ern snake bite hos­pi­tal in Kal­tungo. All things be­ing equal, the hos­pi­tal will be com­mis­sioned this month by Gov­er­nor Ibrahim Has­san Dankwambo,” Dr Ishaya said.

Bot­tles con­tain­ing snakes at the cen­tre

Ruth’s leg af­ter the snake bite

Lokhfa James

Ruth Zingfa

Bot­tles con­tain­ing Car­pet Viper - a poi­sonous snake at the cen­tre

The leg of Lokhfa James af­ter the snake bite

The Com­pre­hen­sive Health Cen­tre in Zamko

The Snake Bite ward at the cen­tre

Is­ti­fanus Bako, Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, Com­pre­hen­sive Med­i­cal Cen­tre, Zamko

Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee Chair­man, Lang­tang Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, Brian Dadi

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