Melbourne researchers help tackle snakebite deaths globally

Monday, 19 June, 2017

Improving treatment and reducing the death and injury toll from snakebites globally took a major step forward when the World Health Organization added snakebite to the highest priority list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) this month.

The University of Melbourne has played a pivotal role in the move and one of its leading venom experts, Dr David Williams, has called for a concerted effort to minimise the massive health and economic impact that venomous snakes have worldwide.

Dr Williams, who heads the Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, said the listing of snakebite as a ‘Category A Neglected Tropical Disease’ recognises the enormous toll it takes on some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.

“Venomous snakes bite five million people worldwide every year, claiming the lives of at least 125,000 and leaving more than 400,000 permanently disabled. But a global push for change is gaining momentum, and our Australian-based Global Snakebite Initiative has taken the lead.”

As CEO of The Global Snakebite Initiative (GSI), Dr Williams leads AVRU’s snakebite project in Papua New Guinea, where a new antivenom to treat taipan bites developed with PNG, Costa Rican, Spanish and UK partners has just finished clinical trials and is expected to save up to 1000 lives each year.

But Dr Williams said it is crucial that the rest of the world also gets behind WHO’s decision and provides it with the resources it needs to develop and implement an effective global snakebite control program.

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