David Williams has been bitten by a snake six times.
“The first time was pretty terrifying because I didn’t know what to expect. It felt like having my hand smashed with a hammer,” he says.
“My last snakebite would have been a fatal one, but for the fact we were carrying an emergency medical kit so we could do something about it.”
Dr Williams, an expert on snakebites at the World Health Organization (WHO) – who travels the world collecting snake venoms to help develop new treatments – says most victims “don’t have that life-saving luxury”.
The WHO calls snakebites “arguably the world’s biggest hidden health crisis”, with one person dying from a bite every four minutes. Hundreds of thousands of others are left seriously disfigured, with many needing amputations.
Snakebites mainly affect people living in some of the poorest communities in the poorest parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Farmers risk their lives and livelihoods every day while simply tending to their crops, where deadly snakes lurk. Children often become victims too.
So now two major health organisations – the WHO and the UK’s Wellcome Trust – are taking steps to tackle snakebites.
The Wellcome Trust is investing £80m into a new programme to invest in new treatments and better access to effective anti-venoms.
And the WHO is preparing to publish a plan to halve the number of deaths and disabilities caused by snakebites by 2030.
“We’re at a very important point in the effort to do something about snakebite for some of the poorest people in the world,” says Dr Williams.
“Many already live in poverty and the consequence of snakebite is that they are driven further into debt and despair, even if they