SNAKEBITE IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA: THE PROBLEMS

David Williams BSc


If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by a venomous snake in Papua New Guinea at the present time, you are faced with a number of problems, which seriously limit your chances of survival:

You will probably reside in a village, or be working in a remote part of Papua New Guinea, and will need to travel a long distance through difficult terrain or on very poor roads, to reach an Aid Post or Health Centre. 

Unless you have been taught appropriate, safe first-aid techniques and are able to use them, the venom from the snake may act rapidly, and you may collapse or develop paralysis very quickly. By the time you get to medical aid, your condition will be very serious and perhaps irreversible.

Due to a limited budget for the purchase of life-saving drugs, and the high unit cost of the only products currently available, there is a very good chance that even if you do live long enough to reach some form of medical assistance, they may have either very little, or no antivenom to administer, and lack even the most basic facilities for the provision of care.

If you do receive antivenom, it may not be efficacious. You might still die, because the Australian antivenom is made from the venom of Australian snakes, not Papua New Guinean ones which may have different venoms, some of which are more potent than those from Australian snakes. You may also experience a serious allergic reaction to the antivenom itself a complication that is occasionally fatal.

Because of this, whether you receive antivenom or not, you may develop very serious complications, particularly problems with breathing, and unless you reach a major hospital with special equipment and trained staff, you will slowly suffocate as a result of paralysis of the muscles involved in breathing.

You may experience blood-clotting problems, which can only be corrected with more antivenom, and this may cause you to die from internal bleeding, particularly inside the brain.

If you are in a remote area, transport problems and distance may make it impossible to move you to a larger better-equipped medical facility that has the equipment to help you breath. Even after receiving some antivenom, you may still die from slow suffocation in the back of a motor vehicle, or in the bottom of a boat or canoe.

These are just some of the circumstances under which snakebites claim the lives of hundreds of healthy, productive Papua New Guineans each year, after they accidentally encounter snakes near their garden plots, around their homes, or while walking through the bush.

Some of these problems, such as the geography of the land, the lack of transport and poorly equipped medical facilities, either simply cannot be avoided, or require investments of resources that are currently beyond the available capacity of government.

Issues concerning first-aid treatment; effective and affordable antivenoms that are safe to use; and supportive medical treatment for improving the survivorship of victims, can be investigated, and with the use of innovation and appropriate technology, solutions are available that will save lives and reduce the costs to medical care to the community and government. 


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Except where stated otherwise all site content David Williams (1998-2007)