In one of my recent post about a 6-year-old son of my next-door neighbour that got bitten by a snake, I talked about some local remedies that were applied to the wound, how I was not totally convinced by these remedies, and how we ended up taking the boy to a hospital where we had to spend a considerable time journeying around the town looking for polyvalent snake antivenom.
Thank goodness that the boy is currently fast recuperating and might soon resume schooling in a matter of days. Since the incident, I have been thinking deeply about how people in rural areas deal with a venomous snake bites. I mean, if there are no conventional hospitals and medicine around, does it mean that victims of snake bites will just be left to their fate even when it seemed that the local remedies were not working?
In the case of the boy, I am certain that whatever local antidotes that were applied and given to him to swallow were not working because within a few minutes, the leg had swollen up really big and the victim was in serious agony. As we were busy looking for the prescribed antivenom, suggestions kept on flying from different sources about the alternative/herbal remedies that can be used instead of looking for and spending heavily on the conventional antivenom.
- One person suggested that the victim keep chewing raw leaves of Launaea taraxacifolia and drinking water to it. He said this will make the boy vomit at some points and the venom would come out along with the vomit.
- Another suggestion talked about getting 2 different species of onions - Allium cepa and Allium ascalonicum - grinding them together and asking the victim to keep swallowing the paste.
- A mixture consisting of a paste of Allium cepa and palm kernel oil was also recommended.
- And so many more, perhaps too numerous to be mentioned here.
What really works?
The array of suggestions made to wonder what actually works. I am certain that snake bites are more common in rural areas where conventional hospitals or medicine are far or largely inaccessible. AT that, I do not think I have heard many instances in which lives were lost to snake bites. How have they been doing it?
There is no doubt that there is a large repository of plants with the potential to be used as antivenom to snake bites. Many of these plants have been anecdotally reported for their efficacies but very few have been scientifically researched and documented.
For example, in Uganda, over 77 species of plants have been documented to have been utilized by the locals in the treatment of snake bites while very little has been done to scientifically evaluate these plants for their phytochemical content capable of acting as antivenom. The few ones that have been evaluated among the plant species include Allium cepa, Nicotiana tabacum, Allium sativum, Jatropha curcas and Carica papaya. Most of these plants are also found in Nigeria.
The Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria are famously known for their nomadic and agropastoral lifestyle that makes access to conventional medical treatment for different ailments almost impossible. Hence, they are known to resort to herbs for the treatment of various ailments, including snake bites. In a particular study, about 19 species of plants being used as snake antivenom were identified and documented with the roots of Anonna senegalensis being the most popular among them.
Other species used by the Fulani herdsmen include the seeds of Moringa oleifera and Hibiscus sabdarifa, the bulbs of Allium cepa and A. sativum, and the stembark of Parkia biglobosa.
Many of these plant organs undergo different processes such as aqueous or alcoholic extraction, grinding, etc before they are either consumed, applied to the wound area, or both.
Snakes are of two types - venomous and non-venomous. While I acknowledge the fact that many herbs have the potential to be used as snake antivenom, much of the anecdotal evidence of their efficacy might simply be due to the snake bites not being venomous, unless there are clear indications that they are. In other words, the efficacy reported might purely be due to placebo effects.
Many deaths have been recorded from snake bites, even after victims have been treated with some of the plants that have been reported for antivenom potentials. This also gives credence to the successes reported being due to the non-venomity of the snake involved.
Thus, more research inquiries need to be made into some of the plants that have been touted to act as antidotes for snake bites. The treatment of snake bites should for now, not rely on the anecdotal reports of their efficacy unless strong scientific evidence emerges to give credence to it.
What do you think?