WINDHOEK – The University of Namibia’s Dr Hage Geingob Campus has sent three young Namibian scientists to Turku University in Finland to undergo studies on snake venom.
The researchers are Erastus Haindongo, Loide Shipanga and Ottilie Katali.
This paves the way for Namibia to effectively produce antivenom for the world.
At present, very few countries- Namibia excluded have the capacity to produce snake venoms of adequate quality for antivenom manufacturing, and many manufacturers rely on common commercial sources.
The South African Vaccine Producers, part of the National Health Laboratories in South Africa, produces Polyvalent Antivenom that covers most of the medically important snake venoms in Southern Africa.
The venom of the following snakes is used in the production of Polyvalent Antivenom: Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps), Jameson’s Mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni), Cape Cobra (Naja nivea), Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca), Snouted Cobra (Naja annulifera), Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica), Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus), Puff Adder (Bitis arietans arietans) and Gabon Adder (Bitis gabonica).
In an interview with New Era Wednesday, Dr Hage Geingob Campus Faculty of Health Sciences Dean, Professor Peter Nyarango, said they will soon be able to conduct ground breaking research on snake venom with the intention to produce novel, safe and effective antivenom for the world.
Nyarango said these studies will focus on two common snakes in Namibia. These are zebra snakes and the black mamba, adding that UNAM will deal with the puff adder at a later stage.
“In the world, there is no proven effectiveness antivenom for zebra snakes. So, that will require us to be creative to try and find antivenom, which does not exist anywhere in the world. We plan to conduct research in that field on snake venoms and hopefully one day we will have treatment or anti-dotes,” he said.
He said the three young Namibian scientists left Namibia yesterday for Turku University for three months, to be equipped with the skills to conduct these advanced research or studies.
“With advanced technology and good laboratory set up and trained people, researchers have started testing anti-venom which you just sniff in the nose and it can reverse the actions of the venom. There is hope because science has advanced a lot. But nobody is going to research on this because for those with the money, these things (snakes) are not there. So, it is not a problem for them, that’s why we must deal with it ourselves because it is our problem. There is hope, we cannot fail. That is our belief,” he noted. Nyarango said main companies in South Africa and in France who were producing for other lethal snakes such as black mambas and vipers have ceased operations.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2018 report on Snakebite envenoming, health systems in many countries, Namibia included where snakebites are common often lack the infrastructure and resources to collect robust statistical data on the problem.
The report indicates, given low demand, several manufacturers have ceased production, and the price of some antivenom products have dramatically increased in the last 20 years, making treatment unaffordable for the majority of those who need it.
WHO also indicate that rising prices also further suppress demand, to the extent that antivenom availability has declined significantly or even disappeared in some areas. The entry into some markets of inappropriate, untested, or even fake antivenom products has also undermined confidence in antivenom therapy generally.
Many believe that unless strong and decisive action is taken quickly, antivenom supply failure is imminent in Africa and in some countries in Asia.
Of the approximately 90 species of snakes found in Namibia, only 11 are known to be able to deliver a lethal bite human.
These are the black mamba, Cape cobra, Angolan cobra, zebra snake (western-barred spitting cobra), black spitting cobra, Mozambique spitting cobra, boomslang, twig snake, puff adder, Namibian shield cobra and the shield-nosed snake.