By Andile Tshuma In BULAWAYO 

BULAWAYO has a shortage of anti-venom, with a number of patients having failed to get treatment in the city after snake bites.

Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, Bulawayo provincial medical director Maphios Siamuchembu said the shortage was due to the fact that snake anti-venom was expensive to import and needed extra expertise to administer.

He said hospitals in the country often employed alternative treatments to snake bites, instead of using anti-venom.

Siamuchembu said anti-venom was snake specific and could only be administered for the particular snake bite, adding that most victims fail to identify the types of snakes that would have attacked them, making it difficult to use anti-venom for treatment.

“There are three main types of snake venom. There is neurotoxic venom which is most dangerous as it affects muscles and can stop breathing. There is cytotoxic venom which affects local cells and causes swelling, and then there is matotoxic which causes thinning of blood and makes the patient bleed profusely, requiring blood transfusion,” he said. 

“So, it becomes rather pointless to import a lot of anti-venom when patients might be unable to identify the type of snake that would have struck them. So, as a general surgeon, I attend to snake bites and one of the main things that we do is to treat the symptoms,” he said.

He urged people to exercise caution during the rainy season as snakes are active. 

“We urge the public to be very careful during the rainy season, there is tall grass all over and enough places for snakes to hide in. Wear closed shoes when working in fields or gardens, and be careful in places such as garages or workshops which can be good places for snakes to hide in,” he said. 

Siamuchembu said most snake bites recorded in the city were from non-venomous snakes such as the brown house snake and were, therefore, not life threatening.

He further noted that snake anti venom was very dangerous and life threatening and could kill a patient who survived an initial snake bite, explaining why public hospitals were reluctant to use it as a first call.

“Anti-venom is very dangerous. It’s quite deadly and requires a real expert working with precision to administer it.  That is why it is better to treat snake bites with other means, other than using anti-venom. We really do not encourage the use of anti-venom,” he said.