James Ojo Adakole
When Mrs Afolayan, 56, was leaving her house for a wedding ceremony of a relative in 1985, the thought of being bitten by a snake never crossed her mind. Basking in the euphoria of the occasion, she reached for her bag, and hurtled out to join others.
The wedding ceremony had barely ended when she was bitten by a snake.
“My first experience of a snake bite was in 1985 when I went for a wedding ceremony. We were arranging the gifts given to the newly wedded couple in a room in the night when suddenly I was bitten by a snake,” she told Sunday Sun.
She was whisked to a nearby General Hospital by others around her, but on getting there, they met the unexpected. They were told by one of the hospital officials there was shortage of Anti-Snake Venom (ASV). Short of any alternatives, they waited pondering the next line of action.
Fortunately for them, a left over ASV was found after a through rummage of the hospital by the officials. “Immediately I was rushed to a nearby General Hospital, but on getting there, we were told there was shortage of Anti-Snake Venom. We were then asked to go to Ilorin for treatment. Before I knew what was happening, I had dosed off. All I knew was that everyone around me was massaging my body trying to ensure I did not sleep. It was later we were called upon that there was left over ASV. So, I was given the ASV and was discharge the next day.”
In 2017, Mrs Afolayan experienced another snake bite. This time around, at a Muslim celebration in Inisa, a town in Osun State.
“In 2017, I went for a Muslim celebration in Inisha. In the night, I went in company of some women to make use of the convenience near a Mosque. The area was surrounded by plantain trees.All of a sudden, I spotted a black snake darting towards my leg, because I had a torchlight on me, but before I could make any move, the snake had already bitten me.
So immediately I was bitten by the snake my colleagues raised the alarm and called the attention of people around, the local people in the area tried some traditional methods to bring out the poison, and it came out.That was Saturday night.
But by Monday morning, I discovered, the poison still remained in my body. All the upper part of my body to my neck was stiff as if a pebble was placed on my chest. So later, they called on some herbalists around who gave me another medicine that later relieved the poison, there are dark substances in my excreta.”
Mrs Afolayan is one of the few who survived against the odds to tell their stories of snake bites. Others who had similar experience like Mrs. Afolayan never lived to tell their stories. According to a report by Echitab Study Ltd Guarantee, the company in charge of collecting and distributing Echitab ASV in the country, snakebite is a serious public health problem for Nigeria and Africa.
Like Mrs Afolayan, Monday Oche, from Otukpa in Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State, was walking in company of his friends when he mistakenly stepped on a snake trying to find its way across the road.
“I was walking down the road with my friends that fateful evening when the incident happened. The last thing l remembered was the shock I go that a snake had bitten me,” he told Sunday Sun.
Monday was hurriedly whisked away to a nearby herbalist for local treatment. “Whenever such cases of snake bites arise here, we often go for local treatment majorly because of the cost of going to the hospital. In my own case, for instance, the herbalist was able to remove snake’s poison using the traditional method,” he added.
Monday, however, said that the choice of where to rush victims of snakebites to most times depends on certain factors. “First of all, it all depends on the ability of the herbalist in question. If he’s someone that knows his onions, then you can rely on him for any snakebite. But if his ability is in question, you have to go for orthodox treatment in the hospital. Aside this, the complexity of the bite also matters. There are some cases that demand taking the patient to the hospital,” he said.
Corroborating Monday’s claim, Mrs Afolayan observed that some snakebites are diabolical. Sharing her own experience, she stated that she would have died the second time she was bitten by a snake had she been rushed to the hospital. “My second encounter with a snake was not ordinary. So, if I had been rushed to the hospital, it is obvious that they won’t know what to do about it.” To effectively combat surging cases of snakebites in Nigeria, Mrs Afoloyan canvassed for a synergy between traditional and modern ways.
On that fateful Sunday, Alice, 16, was battling with hunger on her way back home from church. As she meandered through an untarred, narrow path leading to their compound, the thought of what to eat when she gets home occupied her mind.
Unknown to her, there was a looming danger ahead. She was just a stone throw from their compound when she was bitten by a snake. “It was a terrible day for me,” she told Sunday Sun. “I couldn’t have envisaged being bitten by a snake at that moment, especially considering the fact that I was very hungry. I was lucky to have people passing by otherwise the story could have been different today. I was rushed to a nearby traditional centre for treating snakebites, where the poison was extracted from my body,” she said.
Mrs Afolayan, Monday, and Alice’s experience with snakes are fragments of what many Nigerians, especially those in the rural areas go through annually. Unfortunately, not many of them live to tell their stories.
The report puts cases of snakebites in Nigeria annually at 174 bites/100,000 about I/5 of all African region cases. It added that out of 90 per cent of bites in the country, 60 per cent result in death.
Ballooning cases of snake bites in the country has been met by sparse circulation of ASV. A recent claim by the Managing Director of Echitab Study Ltd Guarantee, Nandul Durfa that there “were less than 200 vales left for the whole country,” is an indication that the country is grappling with acute shortage of ASV.
Annually, Nigeria spends huge resources to buy ASV. The situation has further renewed concerns why Nigeria has not been able to produce her own locally made ASV, despite various calls for local production of ASV in the country. This is happening despite a research by the late Prof Dora Akunyili in 1985 which discovered that Nigeria can produce locally anti-snake venoms using extracts from the stem bark of schumanniophytonmagnificum.
Sunday Sun delved into details of the findings the late Minister’s Ph.D project entitled: “Anti-Snake Venom properties of extracts from the stem bark of schumanniophytonmagnificum (Harms)”.
According to the study, schumanniofoxide of the plant is likely to be responsible for its anti-snake venom activities considering the fact that the use of photooxidation and detoxifying snake venoms and potassium permanganate in the treatment of snakebite are based on their ability to oxidize venoms thereby rendering them inactive.
Thirty-four years after, however, recommendations of the research and other similar studies done have gone down the drain. Research experts warn that Nigeria’s continued neglect of local researches is inimical to the growth of the economy.
Commenting on this, a lecturer and research expert at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Mr Chidiebere Nwachukwu observed that it is unfortunate Nigeria has not properly harnessed recommendations of various top-notch researches done in the past.
He told Sunday Sun: “Nigeria as a nation has never had any history of utilizing research to grow the economy. Even researchers to a very large extent have been engaging in researches just for the purpose of appearance, that to show they are working hard. There are countries in the world where the economy benefits immensely from research works. We can talk of California, for instance, in the United States which has emerged as a very rich state and one of the best economies in the world because the universities in California do a lot of research and then the economy benefits as they produce findings.
“But here in Nigeria, whatever we do and call research has not benefited the Nigerian economy in anyway. Even the people who should actually make use of the researches that are done in Nigeria have no regard, and no faith in whatever Nigerians produce. If those things come from abroad, we tend to place so much faith in them than what our own people can produce locally.
So basically, it is part of our problem as a nation that whatever comes from abroad is of great value to us, but whatever is produced locally means nothing at all. And until we get to a point and begin to look inward, and spend time and resources on research, Nigeria has really no hope of growing the economy to the level where it can take care of the needs of Nigerians.”
Speaking on the way forward, Nwachukwu said: “The way forward is actually for policy makers to actually have a rethink, because if those at the helm of affairs who are supposed to use all these researches to solve problems and grow the economy in the country have no faith in local researchers, then Nigeria won’t make any headway at all. The way forward is to look inward because whenever the very people we look down on in Nigeria leaves the shores of the country and travel overseas, they tend to be respected and accepted. We will turn around and buy those products that are made through them. It is a very big shame.”