Snakebites and human rights

Dr Andrew Watt and his team have helped save more than 500 lives in Papua New Guinea from deadly snakebites since 2018. On International Snakebite Awareness Day, he shares how the Australian Venom Research Unit is forging ahead.

The AVRU, based at the University of Melbourne, welcomes a two year extension of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Snakebite Partnership, which began in 2018.

It is an initiative of PNG’s National Department of Health, the Australian High Commission and vaccine provider, Seqirus Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of CSL. It’s managed and operated by the Charles Campbell Toxinology Laboratory (CCTL) in Port Moresby, which is a University of Melbourne collaboration with the University of Papua New Guinea.

Prior to the Partnership, including work by ARVU co-heads Dr Andrew Watt and Dr Timothy Jackson, antivenom could cost up to $A2000 per vial - a fortune in PNG.  And, every year, around 1000 people in PNG are reported to die from snakebite, compared with around four Australians.

The Partnership distributes up to 600 vials of antivenom a year across PNG and has helped train hundreds of healthcare workers with snakebite specific clinical training.

"We’ve also visited 60 health care centres to provide training on snakebite management and snakebite reporting, as well as support the Government of PNG to develop capacity and sustainability for biologicals supply across the country," explains Dr Watt.

"The success of the program is largely due to the amazing work of our in-country team. On the ground, our pharmacist and project manager, Geno Roalakona and our clinical snakebite nurse and educator, Andrew Maru are doing incredible work in a challenging and ever changing environment. To say it has been rewarding work is an understatement."

Sunday 19 September is International Snakebite Awareness Day, and Dr Watt shares how the AVRU is forging ahead with its mission to become a centre of excellence in the Asia-Pacific Region.

"Despite the hurdles, Tim and I, along with our team of laboratory, clinical and support staff continue with our innovative and strategic research and information analysis on this neglected problem of envenoming by venomous animals."

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