No snake anti-venom in Somaliland villages as puff adders cause deaths

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Jama Ali Nur rushed to find a torch when he heard his youngest daughter scream out in the middle of the night.

In the light, they saw that the little girl, aged two, had been bitten by a snake that had slithered into their house in the rural area of Hagal village, 95 km east of the port city of Berbera in Somaliland.

Jama, a pastoralist with eight other children, said they found some medicine to give her but it had no effect. The child’s condition worsened and she died.

The village has no hospital and the small mother and child health centre mainly handles routine vaccinations and maternity cases. It does not have any anti-venom to deal with puff adder snake bites.

Jama’s daughter was the second person in Hagal to suffer a fatal bite from a puff adder in the past three weeks. Twelve people have been bitten. Seven of them were taken to Berbera for medical treatment.

Jama’s family, who remain with 40 goats from their original herd of 200 that was decimated by the drought, could not afford the long journey to Berbera – at least eight hours across dusty, rutted roads.

In any case, anti-venom for puff adder bites is not available in Somaliland, according to Dr Faysal Farah at Berbera hospital. Doctors tend to use other drugs administered intravenously, which sometimes work and other times do not.

Selabaan Mohamed Dubad, the head of the health centre in Berbera that received the seven snake bite victims from Hagal, told Radio Ergo they were lucky to have been brought for treatment, as people in the rural areas do not usually trust in Western medicine to treat snake bites.

He said victims traditionally are kept constrained in the shade of a tree, in the belief that the venom will not spread to the rest of the body if the person stays still in a certain position.

Hagal village, which is located in the Guban – the coastal plain running parallel to the Gulf of Aden – has been hit by prolonged drought. Large numbers of the inhabitants had earlier migrated to areas between Burao and Erigabo. Once the Gu rains began, people were attracted back again to Hagal.

Radio Ergo

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