AntivenomSwazi Foundation

HOPE FOR FORGOTTEN VICTIMS

A modest, unassuming couple in Swaziland are reaching out with their hearts and hands to help the victims of snake bite in rural Swaziland.

Thea Litschka-Koen

Thea Litschka-Koen and Clifton Koen manage a large rural business in Simunye, Swaziland. Frustrated by the lack of medical services and in particular life-saving antivenoms, Thea and Clifton have set up a charity AntivenomSwazi to raise funds to establish an antivenom bank that can provide free antivenoms to snake bite victims throughout the country, and maintain emergency stocks in two locations so that antivenom can reach any patient who needs it by road within 2 hours. They are involved in public education, teaching rural people to avoid snake bites and about the importance of seeking medical attention quickly, rather than delaying care, by first seeking out local ‘Witch Doctors’.

AntivenomSwazi also hope to educate local health workers to improve the care and treatment of snake bite.

THE FACE OF SNAKEBITE IN SWAZILAND

Many of the victims of snake bite in Swaziland are children. While some succumb quickly to the devastating neurotoxicity caused by black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) bites, others, bitten by spitting cobras (Naja mossambica) or puff adders (Bitis arietans) often suffer extensive local tissue injury, resulting in permanent disability, including the amputation of limbs.

The effects of these necrotic snakebites are horrifying, and profoundly confronting. Thea and Clifton are far from being dispassionate observers when it comes to the suffering of Swaziland’s snakebitten children, and the work they do to try and obtain medical help for the victims is both upsetting and rewarding. Few will not be shocked by Thea’s photographs, but the reason she takes the time to capture images such as those below, is to try to both educate people outside Swaziland about this daily tragedy, and to confront them with best possible reasons for helping their cause.

6 year old Busi suffered extensive tissue loss after being bitten by a Mozambique spitting cobra.

AntivenomSwazi works on the principle that every victim of snakebite, deserves help.
Whether it be the gift of antivenom after a bite from a black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) or the benefit of skilled reconstructive skin grafting after a puff adder (Bitis arietans) or Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) bite leaves behind destroyed tissue, AntivenomSwazi want none of Swaziland’s snakebite casualties to be left without assistance.

18 month old Ngwenya, another victim of a spitting cobra bite, had 2 and a half fingers amputated.

Thea, Clifton and their small band of supporters have gone to quite extreme lengths to try and do something about the snakebite problems of Swaziland. Together they have not only raised money to buy antivenoms and pay for medical treatments, but they have also become accomplished snake catchers … risking their own lives to remove venomous snakes from homes, outbuildings and other places where people encounter them within their communities.

Mduduzi - victim of a spitting cobra bite in Swaziland

Mduduzi was bitten by a Mozambique spitting cobra on both arms while he slept in the family bed. Without the intervention of Antivenom Swazi Foundation’s Thea Litschka-Koen he may have lost one arm, or may have died as a result of secondary infection (Photo: Thea Litschka-Koen)

DELIVERING ANTIVENOMS TO DESPERATE VICTIMS

AntivenomSwazi’s major objective is to ensure a supply of effective antivenoms for Swaziland’s snakebite victims. Most rural Swazi’s cannot afford the high costs of antivenom, and as a result, many of them receive no modern treatment at all, relying instead on local “Witch Doctors”. Making antivenoms available through AntivenomSwazi will ensure that more victims have an opportunity to receive free treatment with these life-saving medicines.

The antivenoms supplied by AntivenomSwazi are purchased from South African Vaccine Producers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Two products are purchased for use in Swaziland:

  • SAVP Polyvalent Snake Antivenom for use against bites by Puff adders (Bitis arietans), Gaboon vipers (Bitis gabonica), Green mambas (Dendroaspis angusticeps), Jameson’s mambas (Dendroaspis jamesoni), Black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis), Rinkhals spitting cobras (Haemachatus haemachatus), Cape cobras (Naja nivea), Forest cobras (Naja melanoleuca), Snouted Cobras (Naja annulifera) and Mozambique spitting cobras (Naja Mossambica)
  • SAVP Boomslang Monovalent Antivenom which is the only antivenom available in the world to treat bites by Boomslangs (Dispholidus typus).

Black mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis) are a common cause of snakebites in the lowveld of Eastern Swaziland.

Purchasing these antivenoms costs approximately SZL1,300 (about US$160) per vial, and depending on the species of snake involved, a patient may need 5-10 vials of antivenom as an initial dose. With a single treatment costing as much as US$800-1600, it is easy to see how impossible it is for a Swazi farmer, whose annual income may be as low as US$200, to be able to afford to buy antivenom if someone in his or her family is bitten by a venomous snake. AntivenomSwazi provides antivenoms at no cost to the victims of snakebites in Swaziland and they also use donations to help pay for other medical treatments, such as skin-grafting for the victims of bites by snakes with tissue-destroying venoms, like the puff adder (Bitis arietans) and the Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica), and for subsequent rehabilitation.

The Global Snakebite Initiative has partnered with Antivenom Swazi Foundation to raise funds to make their continued work possible.

OUR TARGET

GSI and AntivenomSwazi hope to raise US$32,000 this year to make it possible to purchase 200 vials of antivenom with the potential to treat up to 40 Swaziland snakebite victims.

We also hope to establish an African Snakebite Recovery Fund to help meet the medical costs of victims in Swaziland and Kenya who are bitten by snakes with venom that destroys tissue, and who would otherwise be left permanently disabled.

HOW YOUR DONATION WILL HELP

By supporting this project in the Kingdom of Swaziland, you will helping the GSI and the AntivenomSwazi Foundation to:

  1. Deliver life-saving antivenoms to snakebite victims in Swaziland and will have a direct role in helping to save the lives of Swazi men, women and children;
  2. Helping to fund community education and training programmes that teach snakebite prevention and first aid.
  3. Support the valuable work that AntivenomSwazi Foundation does by capturing and safely removing highly venomous snakes from villagers homes.

DONATE NOW

100% of your donation will go directly to helping the work of the AntivenomSwazi Foundation if you select the ASF as the designated recipient when you donate to the Global Snakebite Initiative. You can also elect to support our African Snakebite Recovery Fund. Donations of any amount are welcomed.