Up to 138,000 people die worldwide from snakebites annually. Another 400,000 are severely injured, often losing a limb.
Like many problems that affect the poor, this one has been ignored for decades. But the WHO recently designated snakebite a neglected tropical disease and the issue is finally in the sights of scientists and donors. However, little emphasis is being placed on education and prevention. Improved antivenoms are unquestionably needed - production has remained essentially unchanged for a century - but their development and deployment will take years. Meanwhile, 7,400 people are bitten every day.
A small number of activists are doing important work in their home contexts, but they remain under-resourced and little known. Thea Litschka-Koen, is one such person, in the tiny southern African kingdom of eSwatini. For the last fifteen years she has worked to dispel misinformation, convey snakes’ ecological importance, and improve access to life-saving treatment. She spends much of her time rescuing people from snakes, and snakes from people.