County has only seven healthcare workers trained on snake bite management

Patrick Kigen with her 6 year old daughter Chebet Lagat at home in Emos Village in Mogotio Baringo County on May 9,2018.Chebet got paralyzed on her right hand after she was bitten by a snake bite in 2015. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Only seven medical workers have formal training on to how manage snake bites in Baringo, a recent report has revealed.

This is despite a sharp increase in cases of snakebites in a region crawling with some of the deadliest serpents in the world, including the black mamba, cobra and puff adder.

According to the May 2019 report by the county department of Health, prolonged dry spells and a rapidly expanding population has led to deadly encounters between man and serpent in the last three years.

Available statistics indicate that between 300 to 500 people are bitten by snakes in the region every month. The county health department is yet to quantify the number of deaths from snakebites but concedes that scores of people die or lose their limbs every month.

Despite this, the report indicates that only two clinical officers and three nurses at Baringo County Hospital, one doctor in Kabartonjo Sub-County Hospital and one nurse at Akwichatis dispensary have received formal training on handling snakebites.

In compiling their report, the team of health officials identified Tiaty, Baringo South and Baringo North sub-counties as the worst affected by snake bites.

The team visited 18 health facilities. Out of these, only Baringo County Hospital had World Health Organisation (WHO) clinical guidelines on management of snake bites.

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During the visit, the team found that 88 per cent of the facilities had snake anti-venom, with the most common one being Snake Venom Antiserum (African) from India. The rest of the facilities either did not have any anti-venom or lacked proper facilities to store it.

Chief officer of Health Gideon Toromo said the county was banking on using snake anti-venom that can be stored like any other drug on the shelves instead of one that needed special storage facilities.

This, he said, would allow far-flung facilities in areas with venomous snakes to have enough anti-venom in stock.

Dr Toromo conceded that many snakebite victims lose their lives either because the only available health facility is too far or the closest one does not stock anti-venom.

Preventive and promotive health chief officer, Winnie Bore said the department has placed an order for Polyvalent vaccine, which she says can be used to treat venom from a wider range of snake species.

"In the past, residents used to struggle to find and kill the snake that bit one of them and carry it together with the patient to the hospital, this is no longer the case since Polyvalent can neutralise venom from more species of snakes," she said.

The department will also be dispatching motorcycles to far-flung areas to ferry snakebite victims to hospitals.

Governor Stanley Kiptis said the county has laid out elaborate measures to fight snakebites, including stocking more anti-venom vaccines in all dispensaries.

According to Kiptis, the county has also invited experts from a US firm, Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, to train more health officials and members of community on how to prevent and handle snakebites.

The firm is also expected to collect samples for study to come up with the right anti-venom drugs.

First aid

The governor said centres will soon be established in the area to monitor and contain the snakebites in the region.

“Sensitisation of the community on the prevention of snake bites and effective first aid particularly for those living in remote areas is paramount because it will make them anticipate and handle such cases,” he said.

But according to Willy Limo, a curator stationed at Lake Baringo Snake Park, one way to end the escalating conflict between man and the snakes is to train more snake handlers among community members.

This way, deadly serpents can be safely shepherded back to their natural habitat whenever they stray into homesteads.

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Snake bitesHealthcare workersKabartonjoBaringo County