SOUTH AFRICA’S SNAKE ANTI-VENOM LAB
South Africa is home to numerous venomous snakes, yet The South African Vaccine Producers (SAVP), part of the National Health Laboratory Service, is the only manufacturer of snake anti-venom in the entire country.
Sandringham, Johannesburg is home to the SAVP where horses are saving people’s lives. Snake anti-venoms are produced in horses, because they can produce anti-bodies that neutralise the venom. These horses are immunised with the different venoms, then the plasma from the horses is processed and purified, resulting in the anti-venom. “SAVP makes about 15 000 ampoules a year,” says Megan Saffer, managing director of the SAVP’s anti-venom unit.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than five million people are bitten by snakes each year, and between 81 000 and 138 000 people die each year due to snake bites,
with three times as many amputations. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than 2% of snake bites are treated with anti-venom. Depending on the type of snake and amount of venom it injects, a snake bite could cause tissue damage, paralysis or even death.
This country is home to many venomous snakes, and the SAVP has developed a number of products that effectively neutralise some venoms. These include the bites of rinkhals, the black mamba, and the Mozambique spitting cobra. It is also the only monovalent anti-venom that is effective against the bite of
The National Health Laboratory Service, formerly the SA Institute of Medical Research, first started producing antivenoms in 1928, specifically for the Cape cobra and puff adder.
However, snake anti-venom is not the SAVP’s only antidote: It also produces spider anti-venom (specifically against the poison of a black widow spider), which it has been doing since 1949. In the 1940s it also began producing an antivenom for the scorpion, Parabuthus transvaalicus. (Sarah Wild – Business Insider SA)