Some 100,000 people from around the world die from poisonous snake bites every year, 30,000 of them in sub-Saharan Africa. It has recently been reported in the journal Nature, that the humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières has sounded a serious warning about antivenom supplies.
The concern has been raised about the highly regarded antidote, Fav-Afrique. This is an effective treatment for bites from ten different species of snake across the sub-Saharan region. However, at up to $500 dollars to treat one person, It is much more expensive than competing products. Citing competitors selling cheaper (albeit less effective) alternatives in the region, the antivenom’s only producer recently halted production, with the last batch sold In January 2014.
While there has reportedly been some talk of transferring production to other suppliers, some have argued that the real issue is not a lack of pharmaceutical production. Johan Marais, who heads the African Snakebite Institute, argues that more pressing concerns are the lack of global distribution networks, and insufficient training for local doctors.
Medics should read up on snake bites, and look specifically at how Fav-Afrique works. Economists should look at the challenge of providing these expensive treatments to some of the poorest parts of the planet. Politics applicants may consider how international initiatives, such as subsidies from the World Health Organisation, might come about. Lawyers might want to think about the constraints that patents place on providing medical help to people, and explore the ethical questions behind them.
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