"Snakes, Why Did It Have to be Snakes?": On a Neglected Scourge of the Poor

By Aaron Williamson

If you are interested in further engaging the intersection of science and faith, there is an interesting article from the December 2015 issue of Scientific American. You might want to check it out. 

The article is entitled Defanging Snakebites by Jeremy Hsu.  Hsu reports that over two-hundred thousand people around the world are killed each year from the deadly venom of a snakebite, and many more hundreds of thousands are injured.  A large majority of these victims occur in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, which are some of the poorest areas on our planet.  As Christians, our first response should be compassion for these suffering brothers and sisters around the globe.  As I Corinthians 12: 26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” We are bound together with them in common humanity.

The article goes on to report that pharmaceutical companies (often based in the West) have stopped developing and producing antidotes for snake venom.  In fact, the last drug that has proved effective in combating snake venom will soon expire in June 2016.  It seems that these drugs don’t make enough money for the drug companies to continue to produce them, not to mention further development. 

However, there are bigger issues at stake here than just the profit of pharmaceutical companies.  We who are blessed with plenty have a responsibility to take care of those in need around the world.  Deuteronomy 15: 11 makes this point very well when it says, “‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”  One group called Doctors Without Borders is trying to address this need, calling snakebites “one of the world’s most neglected public health emergencies.” In addition, the World Congress of the International Society of Toxicology is calling for the World Health Organization to re-list snakebites under neglected tropical diseases. 

From the research side, several have been working on targeted selective screening for toxic venom in snakes rather than the old method of antidote, which combats all venom.  This new process could make the antidote much more effective and could reduce the cost of the drug to $35 per dose.  In addition, some have been working on a drug that could prevent the toxic effects of the venom for a period of time.  This new pill would give snakebite victims enough time to get to a hospital or medical facility, which is one of the main reasons that so many deaths occur.  The article goes on to discuss several other developments as well.

One of the issues at stake is that this new research, production, and development, takes funding and also support from the pharmaceutical companies and health organizations.  This may not seem like a major problem in our lives, but with so many casualties occurring around the world, which particularly affect the poor, perhaps we should rethink these issues and the economic barriers involved.  This is not just an economic issue, but has also become an ethical issue.

Hundreds of thousands of people are hurting and dying each year from something that is easily preventable, and which we already have the means to address.  Since this issue has come to light, we in the West need to consider what our responsibility is to our fellow humans and to God.  Psalm 72:24 calls on God to “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy and crush the oppressor!”  It seems in this case that we in the West may be culpable by way of being apathetic to drug companies and other complicit organizations who have neglected the cause of the poor.  I am not out to vilify drug companies or government agencies, but to shed light on the ethical issues involved, as people’s health and lives are gambled away for the cost of $35.  What do you think?

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Picture credit: Kenny Loule