Geospatial tracking and convergent technology can greatly contribute to accurate information and improved awareness about venomous snakes. Having this information available can accelerate the implementation of life-saving interventions, such as improved planning and delivery of antivenoms, and identification of high-risk communities and locations where treatment and antivenom centres should be prioritized.
Continuously updated information and data that can be accessed in real-time can drastically improve the chances of survival, particularly for snakebite victims who live in remote rural areas. A new WHO Snakebite Information and Data Platform will deliver these capabilities and stimulate work towards achieving the global target to halve the number of deaths and disability due to snakebite envenoming by 2030.
The new WHO platform was launched during a webinar on 15 September 2021. Speakers and panellists highlighted the importance of such a resource in addressing the devastating health consequences of snakebite envenoming, especially for rural populations who experience the most encounters with venomous snakes.
Panellists also spoke of the need for more research and quick access to antivenoms in areas and regions where venomous snakes are found. There are an estimated 200–300 snake species whose bites can be very harmful to people.
A significant barrier to effective treatment is knowing which snakes occur where, and which antivenoms are needed for each type of snake. The WHO platform enables users to see which species are found in different communities and to access up-to-date information on the antivenom products available for each species. The platform will support medical personnel to make informed decisions about the best treatment during the critically short time between envenoming and treatment – when mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
The platform is the evolution of a strategy born at WHO a decade ago. At the time, the technology available was not yet mature enough to enable the full potential of this resource to be realized, but this has now become possible thanks to the latest convergent technology. The platform has been developed with new generation ArcGIS software. It comprises advanced tools for the management, analysis and visualization of updated multi-sourced data, providing an interactive and participative user experience.
The platform can greatly improve surveillance and immensely contribute to epidemiological documentation and data reporting through an improvised District Health Information System (DHIS) module, which countries can use to compile statistics. This will allow for better integration of data to improve the mapping and distribution of antivenoms, as well as improved sharing of resources and coordination of prevention activities with other disease programmes.
WHO scientists hope the platform will be a turning point in global efforts to improve awareness of snakebite envenoming and develop specific activities and programmes to prevent it. The platform will become a vibrant space for collaboration, data-sharing and access to information on snakes for everyone. It will also enable users to identify the snake fauna from different parts of the world, and to better understand the biogeographical diversity of species.
WHO will use a wide range of data sources to develop advanced geospatial models of venomous snake distributions, which go far beyond simply documenting the areas in which they may occur. This will expand our knowledge of how various factors, such as seasonality, deforestation, urbanization and climate change, will influence their future impact on human lives and public health.
View a video presentation of the platform.
Data from the WHO platform will be used to develop appropriate information and resources to facilitate community-level engagement programmes. This will enable local inhabitants to better understand how they can actively reduce their risk of contact with venomous snakes, prevent snakebites, and improve their awareness of high-risk habitats and seasons when snakes are more likely to be encountered.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this evolving platform is interaction – the public can participate and contribute by sharing photos of what they think are venomous snakes along with their location data. This will assist WHO scientists as they continue to refine and improve the distribution maps and deliver more reliable and accurate information to communities using citizen science as a source of real-time information.
Photographs submitted to WHO are examined by experts to confirm the identity of the specimen. This validation involves consultation with some of the world’s leading authorities on snakes and snakebite, who are working with WHO to improve species range data – a critical element in the 2019–2030 global strategy for the prevention and control of snakebite envenoming.
If you missed the live webinar, you can access the below recording.
Snakebite envenoming is a potentially life-threatening condition that typically results from the injection of a mixture of different toxins (venom) following the bite of a venomous snake. As many as 2.7 million people are envenomed each year. Of these people, between 81 000 and 138 000 subsequently die. Of the survivors, up to 400 000 are left with a permanent disability.
Most snakebite envenoming cases occur in tropical and subtropical regions. As many as 46 000 snakebite deaths occur in India alone. Sub-Saharan Africa, tropical Asia, New Guinea, and Central and South America are also snakebite-endemic hot spots.
Snakebite particularly affects the most vulnerable members of society – often those living in remote rural areas. Agricultural workers (including working children aged 10–14 years) and people living in poorly constructed homes face the highest risk and often have limited access to education, health care and even footwear.