“No person should be condemned to a life of poverty simply because they were unfortunate enough to have been bitten by a snake,” says Dr. David Williams, a scientist featured in the documentary film Minutes to Die. Yet that’s happening to many people across Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and other tropical and sub-tropical regions, where the cost of antivenom treatment can represent years of a victim’s income.
Though it’s not as well-known as many other public health emergencies in the developing world, snakebites take a grievous toll—killing about as many people in one month as the Ebola crisis did in two years. Despite being treatable, snakebites claim the lives of more than 125,000 people a year, while disabling another 400,000 survivors. Now, following the World Health Organization’s decision last year to reinstate snakebite envenoming on its list of high-priority Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), the issue is slowly gaining recognition.
Minutes to Die takes viewers to the homes and hospital beds of snakebite victims, to labs where scientists are working to manufacture antivenom and develop additional antidotes, to meetings of public health officials from the World Health Organization. Unpacking the limitations of rural medical infrastructure, the economic challenges of antivenom, and the financial devastation to the families of snakebite victims—who are mostly agricultural workers and children—the film, directed by James Reid, makes clear that this health issue is also very much an issue of poverty, inequity and social justice.
“Major drug companies around the world have neglected production of antivenom because it is not profitable,” according to a 2017 report sponsored by several WHO members, which noted that the lack of investment in this area has hindered innovation and the development of new products. Academic snakebite experts have been working in relative isolation and with little attention – despite the fact that the underlying issues of snakebites are directly related to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ending poverty (1), ensuring healthy lives (3), building resilient infrastructure (9) and reducing inequality (10).
The Lillian Lincoln Foundation, which produced Minutes to Die, has partnered with the social impact consulting firm ProSocial to diversify the talents, people, perspectives and resources being brought to snakebite prevention and treatment in order to accelerate life-saving solutions on the ground. Convening’s scheduled to take place this month target a range of vital sectors—Science/Medicine, Technology/Innovation and Global Health/Philanthropy—with aims of stimulating new thinking and encouraging collaboration, innovation, and mobilization.
The development of an international financing mechanism for global procurement and supply of affordable, quality-assured antivenoms should be the next step. To save lives, countries and donors must act now by supporting an international financing mechanism for antivenoms and by including snakebite treatment in universal health coverage policies. Multinational corporations, with their global reach in both affected regions and in the developed world, visibility and clout, and internal resources, are in a powerful position to elevate the issue and mobilize resources in support of snakebite prevention.
Screen the Film: Free Streaming Available Now for a Limited Time
Learn how snakebites affect people across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania America and consider opportunities for your company or partners to share the issue, screen the film, and support solutions. For a limited time, the GBCHealth community can stream the documentary Minutes to Die free, from anywhere with an Internet connection. The film stream is available until May 31 at 23:59 PST. To stream the film, click here and enter the password: GBC (case sensitive).