Bioethics Blogs

An “Under the Radar” but Preventable Problem Missed?

Sometimes, the simple, lower-tech problems are wrongly neglected and (no pun intended) rise up to bite us.

I say “no pun intended” because, according to Nature, snakebite is re-emerging as a serious public health problem in rural Africa and India, and the tropics in general.  I live in San Diego, where we have rattlesnakes, but it’s usually easy to stay away from them and not too many people die of snakebites, unless they (the people, that is, not the snakes) are careless.  In other parts of the world, though, the snakes are rather gnarlier.  And the main antivenom became unprofitable for its manufacturer, which stopped making it five years ago.  So now the supplies are running out, and more people are dying—more than die in natural disasters or from 17 uncommon but well-understood tropical diseases that get more attention, Nature writes.

Cheaper alternatives are being made by companies in some of the nations affected, but the price war is precisely what drove the main serum out of production, and it will be a couple of years before the newer alternatives are fully tested.  Sanofi Pasteur, the maker of the prior, effective antidote, is said to be working on transferring the manufacturing technology to other companies, to make more.  It’s not clear how much longer that will take.

The Nature article implies that the World Health Organization was the main body asleep at the switch.  This isn’t the first time in recent memory that the WHO has come under criticism—recall the poor response to last year’s Ebola outbreak.  But it just seems like this kind of treatment-supply issue is foreseeable by many parties, and the opportunities should be ripe for cooperation between industry, governments, and philanthropy to address a preventable problem with a relatively small investment. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.