By Marieva Fermin.
In Barinas, famous for being the home state from the socialist leader, Hugo Chavez, around 1,250 people a year die as a result of snake bites, according to figures provided by anti-venom expert, and marine captain, Luis Contreras.
Contreras, an officer from the National Aquatic Spaces Institute (INEA by its acronym in Spanish), is considered by UNESCO a goodwill ambassador after 20 years of traveling around the country to deliver antiophidic serum to the regions where it is needed. He was in Barinas recently to bring the antidote to a peasant bitten by a snake in early May in a rural community located in The Llanos state.
The expert said that due to a shortage of antidote currently, snakebites kill many more people than the coronavirus.
Contreras said that in Zulia state, with 1,125 victims, and Carabobo state, with 850 deaths, are the zones along with Barinas, that hold the first three places in mortality rates for snake bites in Venezuela.
According to Contreras, the shortage of anti-venom serum is the main reason for the deaths. He explains that due to the country’s economic situation, private laboratories do not produce the antidote, only the laboratory at the Central University of Venezuela produce (UCV in Spanish), but also has difficulties in manufacturing it due to lack of budget.
Contreras, who calls himself “a fighter without resources”, lives in Maracaibo, capital of the state of Zulia, and from there he mobilize wherever requires the antidote through the emergency network that doctors have in the country.
His unpaid work consists of taking the antidote where it is needed, even if he has to rely on the goodwill of people, public or private companies, for its transfer to treat the victims.
“Most of the snake victims do not live close to the hospital, or have the proper knowledge about what to do when an ophidian accident happen. Therefore, they arrive at a hospital center where there is no anti-venom serum, what can be deadly,” Contreras pointed out.
Contreras’ estimates indicate that snake bites kill between 100,000 and 150,000 people and incapacitate an average of 400,000 citizens worldwide each year.
“It’s a problem that is aggravated over the years by the global shortage of serum, the only antidote to snake venom, especially in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, where there are countries without proper health conditions,” he explained.
The expert maintains that snake bites should be a treatable condition with the right antidote. “There is no reason for so many people to die”, he said.