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the race to find a universal antivenom



In the Nigeria's Snake Belt, the new initiative is welcome, but it will not come as soon as enough for many.

May and June are the peak season for the clinic, when the start of the farming season leads to the labourers getting bitten as they clear areas of grassland and bush. Sometimes a dozen patients arrive every day, some even from over the border in the neighboring Cameroon, nearly 200 miles away.

Those who reach the clinic are treated with basic anti-venoms, which are offered free of charge and will usually see recovery Within a few days. Yet many people choose to stay at home, putting their faith in traditional remedies such as rubbing the wound with a bark or slashing it open in a hopeless bid to "bleed out" the poison.

One such case is Emmanuel Samuel, 1

2 who was bitten on the foot by a carpet viper four nights ago while out playing. The creature clung on his foot with his fangs, meaning he probably delivered a full dose of venom, but for the first 12 hours, his grandmother treated him by feeding him a ginger paste.

"Luckily a member of our own staff happens to live in his village, and when they found out they told him to come here right away, "said Dr Muhammad, as he examines Emmanuel's leg. Although the swelling has subsided, it is covered in blisters and lesions, while the remaining skin is shiny and fragile like a cling film.

"By the time he got here, he was hardly able to speak," Dr. Muhammad adds. "

In 2017, the Kaltung Clinic treated some 4,400 patients, about one percent of whom died, said Professor Abdulrazaq Habib, another clinician at the clinic.

] Occasionally, there are also logistical problems with the supply of antivenom. Dr. Muhummad said that a shortage over a fortnight last autumn let some patients be turned away, some of whom he presumes later died.

Locals could also do more with education on the risks of using traditional medicine: "We tell them that the herbal cures are useless, but people do not always listen, "he says.

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