The snakebite problem and antivenom crisis from a health-economic perspective

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Abstract

The scourge of snakebite has been well documented but largely ignored by the global health community for several decades, especially the role that economics has played in causing and exacerbating this crisis. Every year millions of people in low and middle-income countries face death, disability and disadvantage from snakebite envenoming (SBE) without access to appropriate treatment. Health-economic factors pervade every aspect of this neglected problem. A multitude of financial and commercial factors helped to cause, and now perpetuate, shortages of high quality, affordable and region-appropriate antivenom in areas where they are most needed. Alongside the death, physical disability and psychological anguish from SBE is a debilitating financial toll, which includes both direct costs of treatment and indirect costs from lost income. SBE is a problem that disproportionately affects poor, rural and agrarian communities, with most victims being young and industrious subsistence workers. The burden of envenoming is often felt by families and communities that can least afford it, and negatively impacts local and national productivity. The lack of long-term investment in health systems to properly manage SBE has led to insufficient funding for antivenom development, procurement, quality control and distribution, despite highly favourable cost effectiveness of some antivenoms. This has contributed to market failures that have seen antivenom output fall and become inaccessible to most victims. Solutions to these problems exist and are achievable, however the challenge for advocates is to appreciate the importance of health-economics and ensure that strategies to redress the economic causes and consequences of SBE are themselves cost-effective and financially sustainable.

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