Maverick Citizen


Frantic hunt for snake antivenom after man is bitten by cobra in Western Cape

Frantic hunt for snake antivenom after man is bitten by cobra in Western Cape
The South African Vaccine Producers is still trying to address the shortage of snake antivenom in South Africa. (Photo: African Snakebite / Wikipedia)

The minister of health, Dr Joe Phaahla, has said that SA’s snake antivenom shortage is being monitored, but snake experts battled to find any on Thursday after a man was bitten by a Cape cobra in Noordhoek in the Western Cape.

Snake experts were on Thursday afternoon battling to find snake antivenom for a man who had been bitten by a Cape cobra in Noordhoek, Cape Town. Steven Meighan from Deep South Reptile Rescue said he hadn’t been able to find any by 5pm.  

“I had to drive down to the Mugg & Bean and borrow their Wi-Fi because of load shedding just to see if anybody I know had any left,” he said. But everyone had run out.  

Arno Naude from Snake Bite Assist said there may be a couple of vials left somewhere in the country. He said that last week in KwaZulu-Natal a man was in severe distress after being bitten by a snouted cobra; vomiting, delirious and unable to walk. Doctors could only treat him symptomatically as they could not find any snake antivenom to give him. The man survived after hours of agony.  

National Health Laboratory Service’s (NHLS’s) Mzi Gcukumana said they had “increased snakebite antivenom production, resulting in a steady stabilisation of output”.  

So far, all requests by Daily Maverick for a list of facilities where this antivenom has been distributed have been ignored. None of SA’s major snakebite experts, despite having paid for large orders, has received any.  

“We have made progress in producing and distributing larger quantities of snakebite antivenom to health and veterinary facilities across the country since last week,” Gcukumana insisted. 

The NHLS has blamed the shortage on load shedding and malfunctioning machinery.  

“We installed a backup power unit, as previously stated, to meet the energy demands of our manufacturing process. The NHLS management continues to monitor the situation and will take necessary steps depending on need.” 

The spokesperson for the National Health Department, Foster Mohale, said the department had noted the concerns raised about the lack of snake antivenom

“It is a much-needed and life-saving treatment. We are doing everything possible to ensure a sufficient supply of this treatment, just like any essential other health products,” he added. 

He said partial deliveries were being done “due to supply constraints” and hospitals were prioritised over veterinary wholesalers.  

“The department is working closely with entities such as the NHLS to increase the supply level of life-saving treatment for snake bites available to everyone,” Mohale said.  

Last week, the National Snakebite Advisory Group appealed to the minister of health, Dr Joe Phaahla, in an open letter to intervene and ensure funding and emergency upgrades of equipment and backup power supply at the South African Vaccine Producers’ (SAVP’s) production plant.  

The SAVP falls under the National Health Laboratory Service and manufactures snake antivenom for sub-Saharan Africa.  

“The inability and lack of expected delivery of antivenom … poses a major health risk, despite the drug being an essential listed drug on the Essential Drug List. We … implore the minister to ensure that the procurement processes are effectively and compliantly performed so that … backup generators and uninterrupted power supplies are made available and to ensure that reagents and other essential production items are procured to assist to enhance production, and the release of batches are made available in sufficient volume to restock the country,” said the letter. 

Mark Marshall from Sandula Conservation in Nelson Mandela Bay said they had warned snake catchers to be extremely careful when retrieving snakes because there is likely to be no antivenom to treat them if they get bitten. 

“Usually, I will be a bit more relaxed and catch the snake with a hook stick. Now you just use the tongs and in the bucket they go … I was retrieving a big Cape cobra today and I must say I was stressing a little bit.”  

He said he received four phone calls in the last two weeks asking for antivenom after dogs got bitten by snakes. 

“The hospitals refused to give any to the vets, saying they have to keep everything they have for humans. I also couldn’t help. The dogs all passed away.” DM/MC


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Vos says:

    Please change your headline picture from a Boomslang to a Cape Cobra

  • Derek Jones says:

    We already have enough snakes in parliament but how about releasing some puffies and rinkhals in there to make the point about the need for proper governance.

  • Chris Taylor says:

    This spokesman for SA Vaccine Producers is being dishonest to the public. The Health Minister needs to get him removed.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Typically stupid situation that this government of reaction has created once again. Let’s not forget the article from last week where Times Live said that Phaala reckons that there’s no concerns because according to the NHLS there’s no shortage of serum. This, despite the warning from all the private sector players!

  • James Miller says:

    This government, we’re burdened with, is always on the ball, working closely with entities to increase the supply level etc., except that the level is close to zero with little prospect of increasing, whatever the product or service in question. Their competence is unrivaled in unfailingly making the wrong decision, and their incompetence seeps into every aspect of our lives. Even a blind squirrel finds the occasional acorn, but our squirrels seem to be too inept even for that.

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    What is about South Africans that they think they can lie whenever they get into hot water and that people are not going to notice ? This fool Gcukumana, who is responsible for anti-venom production, blatantly contradicts dozens of other people claiming they have not received any anti-venom. If it was Gcukumana’s word against one other person’s we might have believed Gcukumana, but when it’s a case of his word against many other’s word the chances of him being the liar increase exponentially. How do local fools like Gcukumana think they can continue to get away with such blatant prevarication ?

  • Duncan W says:

    I was amazed just last week to hear on radio that, according to a spokesman of the NHLS that “there is no shortage of anti-venom” !!
    I have been unable to get any for the past year
    This report confirms my experience and leaves me wondering why such a state of affairs can be tolerated. Another SOE failure

  • Frank Fox says:

    Anther example of State systems failing. A similar situation exists in the production of the vaccine against horse sickness. There are continual shortages due to lack of investment and decline and failure of production.

  • Bradley Bergh Bergh says:

    Viva ANC Cadre deployment resulting in the incompetence now so common place in almost all government departments and agencies. It is not enough just to show up at work. One actually has to do something while at work apart from sit on your phone /computer watching YouTube or TickTock …

  • Peter Wanliss says:

    Impatiently waiting for the promised NHS, when all disease, illness, injury and old age will be cured by the statement of a spokesperson.

  • David Pennington says:

    The NHLS blamed the shortage on lack of petroleum for their fleet of essential Range Rhovahs needed to transport de auntie vinomous medicin

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