The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed snakebites as a 'neglected' public health issue. WHO statistics reveal that five million people are bitten by snakes every year, of whom about 100,000 die. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi's Fav-Afrique is used as an effective antivenom against the venom of 10 different snake species, among the most dangerous in Africa. However, experts have raised concerns with the company having stopped its production.
The medical volunteer group, Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym of MSF, said, "With stocks of a French-produced drug running out, tens of thousands of people will unnecessarily die of snakebites unless an affordable new source of antivenom is found. Sanofi stopped production of the drug, Fav-Afrique, at the end of last year. The last batch will expire next June."
MSF warned, "An effective replacement will not be available for another two years. The absence of a safe and effective antivenom that is active against multiple toxins from June 2016 until at least the end of 2018 will translate into countless deaths. Until alternative treatments are found, Sanofi needs to ensure the interim production of the Fav-Afrique antivenom."
A WHO factsheet says, "Poor data on the number and type of snakebites, leading to difficulty estimating needs, combined with deficient distribution policies, have contributed to manufacturers stopping production or increasing the prices of antivenoms. Poor regulation and the marketing of inappropriate antivenoms, has led to a loss of confidence in the available antivenoms by clinicians, health managers and patients, which has further eroded demand and pushed up prices."
MSF suggests that antivenom treatment can cost as much as $250-500 (224-448 euros) per patient. Sanofi said, "Fav-Afrique could no longer compete with cheaper alternatives flooding the market from Asia, Latin America and Africa." But, MSF warned that these versions were less effective and did not cover snakebites by such a wide range of species.
The pharmaceutical giant said, "We regret having to stop production. We had been warning of the impending situation for years. This situation, essentially a failure of the market, has clearly shown how price pressures can lead to choices being made to the detriment of reliability and, potentially, quality, of drug supply, with impacts on public health."
MSF has warned of a 'real crisis'. It said, "The global health community, donors, governments and pharmaceutical companies should accept responsibility for their share of the neglect of snakebite as a public health emergency and take immediate, appropriate and collaborative action."