New PNG snakebite project to improve access to antivenoms

Antivenom delivery Boregaina Health Centre in Rigo District.

Snakebite remains a significant problem in PNG and World Health Organization data states that around 1000 deaths from snakebite are reported annually. The species that cause the most snakebites are the Papuan taipans and death adders. Taipans are common in the coastal savannah grasslands of southern PNG and predominate in Central Province, NCD, Milne Bay Province, eastern Gulf Province and South- and Middle-Fly regions of Western Province, but are not present in any other regions of PNG. Death Adders are present in all mainland Provinces and are the most frequent cause of envenoming and death outside of the southern coastal provinces.

The recently launched PNG Snakebite Partnership is a three-year project that will involve the National Department of Health (PNG), the Australian Government, Seqirus Pty Ltd, and the Australian Venom Research Unit (Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics) at the University of Melbourne. Seqirus which is a subsidiary of CSL Limited (ASX:CSL), will provide an annual donation of 600 vials of snake and marine creature antivenoms to PNG. This is more than triple the amount of antivenom currently purchased annually by the PNG National Department of Health and the donation is valued at more than PGK2.5 million annually.

The large antivenom donation combined with healthcare worker training, together with a specialised cold chain distribution system (including product management and data collection) will significantly improve access to antivenoms in PNG.

The Australian Government will support the distribution and storage of the antivenoms and training of health personnel on snakebite management which will be delivered through the services of AVRU’s PNG translational research facility, the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre (CCTC).  The CCTC, which is a collaborative partnership between the University of Papua New Guinea and AVRU, operates the snakebite clinic at Port Moresby General Hospital and will offer two new postgraduate Master of Medical Science Scholarships to UPNG students. It is intended that recipients of these scholarships will participate in comprehensive monitoring, evaluation services and health worker training in snakebite management in the future.

The PNG Snakebite Partnership illustrates the continuing vital role that the AVRU has in the management of snakebites in PNG.