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Snakebites require deeper assessment

Snake venom causes morbidity due to neurotoxicity, also bleeding disorders, local tissue damage and renal tissue damage.
Snake venom causes morbidity due to neurotoxicity, also bleeding disorders, local tissue damage and renal tissue damage. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A task force on human-wildlife compensation scheme led by Tourism and Wildlife Chief Administrative Secretary Joseph Boinnet has recommended the removal of snake attacks from the list. The task force limits pay to death or injury due to elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, hyena, crocodile, cheetah, buffalo, hippopotamus and wild dog attacks.

This decision is informed by snake bites accounting for 81 percent of human wildlife conflict claims, which has led to accumulation of compensation claims.

This is typical government response when confronted with a complex problem. Instead of confronting a problem, people in government always choose to bury their heads in the sand.

Since snake bites compensation claims was accumulating to unsustainable levels, the easiest way out is to strike it out. It does not occur to the task force to build an impact scenario of this amendment, looking at the big number of snake bites claims. Maybe this attitude is because snake bites is largely a rural hazard that many in the task force can’t relate.

The interaction between human and wildlife many times results in negative impact and human-snake interaction is the most common.

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In Kenya, human-snake conflict is much worse because puff adders which are more dangerous are the main causes of injuries and deaths followed by black spitting cobra then black mambas. Puff adders are nocturnal and well camouflaged, meaning their attacks are within human settlements, some inside homes, showing that snake bites are a rural hazard.

But snake bites are more than just a rural hazard, it is also a silent public health problem in Kenya.

Snake venom causes morbidity due to neurotoxicity, also bleeding disorders, local tissue damage and renal tissue damage.

Despite these injuries, Kenya lacks correct and effective anti-venom drugs and it is estimated that 1,000 people die of snakebites every year, making it a silent public health problem in Kenya.

The economic cost of snakebites is an issue that the taskforce is oblivious about.

First, the cost of treatment for snakebites is a big issue, especially being a rural hazard. The effective treatment of snakebites from antivenom, diagnostic tests, transport to hospital, to sustenance and supportive care during hospitalisation is costly to many.

In other cases, there is further treatment of any adverse antivenom reaction. For the many who afford this treatment have probably depleted their savings and income from their incoming-earning activities.

Some of them will sell land or property to afford the treatment. So, a compensation helps in mitigating their financial loss and vulnerability.

Second issue is the economic damage to families from severe incapacitation and disability from snakebites. In many cases, children are pulled out of school after parents are incapacitated and end up assisting in income generation to take care of disabled family member.

So, when the task force comes up with the recommendation that snakebites shouldn’t be compensated, the impact of that decision is dire to many families.

The contempt that government officials have for many struggling Kenyans is astounding because the government is simply telling Kenyans they are on their own if bitten by a snake.

We are not providing anti-venom, not catering for cost of treatment and we are not compensating for losses.

The real task for that ineffectual task force should have been to come up with a sustainable compensation model scheme as well as help find ways to reduce human-snake conflict.

The Cabinet Secretary is quoted saying that snakebites account for 60 percent of the Sh5 billion wildlife attack compensation.

That means the cases are many (81 percent) but in terms of monetary cost they comprise almost half of total human-wildlife compensation cost.

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