Helen Kadirire 13 April 2017
HARARE – At least 38 people have died from snakebites since January this
year, Health ministry permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji told Parliament
This comes as the Meteorological Services Department (Met) has warned
residents to be on the look-out for the reptiles which are leaving their
natural habitat to invade residential areas due to the recent heavy rains.
Presenting oral evidence to Parliament’s Health portfolio committee,
Gwinji said “since the beginning of the year, 5 605 cases of snakebites
and 38 deaths throughout the country have been recorded”.
“We expect snakebites to increase around the time foliage increases. What
we have tried to do is preposition the anti-serum that is required,” he
Gwinji, however, said in trying to treat snake bite victims, they are met
with a challenge of reluctance to use the anti-serum, “fearing adverse
side effects or reactions”.
“We have asked our senior clinicians to appropriately skill government
medical officers to have confidence in using the anti-serum,” he said.
He said the anti-serum is in stock, but sometimes expires because some
people have a fear of serum reactions.
He added that the solution to avoid snake bites is behavioural change,
with people careful of where they get their firewood and by keeping their
surroundings clear of shrubs.
He added that while people are increasingly dying from snakebites, others
survive through interventions such as the use of traditional medicines.
According to 2015 statistics,
5 332 cases of snakebites were recorded with 41 deaths during the year,
while 3 195 snake bites were reported and 39 deaths in 2014.
Gwinji said while the ministry has tried engaging traditional healers on
what medicines they use, they are very secretive of their concoctions.
He said regardless of the secretive approach by traditional healers, the
ministry will still concentrate on distributing the anti-tetanus and
anti-serum to healthcare facilities.
“As we try to engage traditional practitioners through our directorate,
some of the interactions we have with them are on hygiene issues such as
the use of razors. However, while they may change needles and razors, it
is what they put on the bite that is of concern to us,” Gwinji said.
Meanwhile, Met said: “We understand the ministry of Health and Child Care
has registered a significant number of snakebites and even resulting in
deaths in the just-ended season. This could be linked to the unusual rains
and high water levels which have either swept away crocodiles and snakes
or could have found new havens.”
The Civil Protection Unit also issued a warning during the rainy season
after snakes were swept out of their burrows into people’s yards and homes
by the floods.
According to the African Snakebite Institute, Zimbabwe has 81 different
types of snakes, 33 species are non-venomous.