Risks of snakebite and challenges to seeking and providing treatment for agro-pastoral communities in Tanzania
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Continuous occurrence of snakebite incidences and the vulnerability of some communities remain a critical problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite causing permanent disability to almost half a million people annually and numerous deaths, snakebite and associated complications are still largely neglected. This study aimed at elucidating risk factors associated with snakebite cases, treatment availability and case management practices for vulnerable agro-pastoralist communities in Northern Tanzania. Data was collected in the Monduli (Arusha region) and the Simanjiro (Manyara region) districts in Tanzania. Interviews with 101 snakebite victims or their guardians and 13 health professionals from 3 health centers in the districts were conducted. Additionally, case records of patients admitted between 2007 and 2019 to the Meserani Snakebite Clinic were obtained. This study showed that appropriate treatment for snakebite including anti-venom, is difficult to access and that snakebite incidences were significantly linked to factors such as gender, age, socio-economic activity, season of the year, and whether being at home or out in the fields. Anti-venom and trained health professionals were only available at the Meserani Snake Park Clinic. Men were bitten most often (χ2 = 62.08, df = 4, p-value < 0.0001). Overall, adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years (χ2 = 62.08, df = 4, p-value < 0.0001) received most bites, usually while outdoors herding cattle in the dry season. A significant majority of victims looked for traditional treatment first (52.7%, χ2 = 29.541, df = 2, p-value = 0.0001). The results of this study present crucial information on what is needed to improve the accessibility to appropriate treatment after a snakebite among agro-pastoral communities. The situation regarding morbidity and mortality due to the inaccessibility of common treatment for snakebite in northern Tanzania is challenging. Reliance on traditional medicine exacerbates the situation. There is dire need to involve affected communities, researchers, the government, clinicians and the public in general, to work together and take part in the global snakebite initiative. Communities and health professionals recognise the underlying challenges and have valuable suggestions on how to improve the situation.