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Snake bite treatment training and James Ashe Anti Venom Trust

Bio-Ken Snake Farm are holding the Sixth International Snakebite Seminar. It will be held at Turtle Bay Beach Club in Watamu, Kenya on Saturday 27th of September 2008, starting at 9am. The purpose of this seminar is to expand on the new WHO Snakebite Treatment Guidelines and their relevance in Africa as well as to address the problems relating to a shortage of anti-venom in Africa. The lead speaker will be Professor David Warrell, of Oxford University in England The seminar will also compare detailed and up to date snakebite treatment procedures. This year the registration fee will be Ksh 1,000/= per person. There will be a casual get together to meet and familiarize with others attending in the bar at Hemingway’s Resort on Friday 26th of September at 7:00 p.m. Contact information Royjan Taylor [email protected]

When James Ashe and his wife Sanda first came to set up Bio-Ken Snake Farm in Watamu many years ago, it was a risky business. They were in the middle of nowhere and dealing with many different and highly venomous snakes. Once they were settled they arranged to get hold of some antivenom, which they kept in their fridge. It was a costly, but necessary, addition to their first aid kit. Meanwhile, local people had practically given up taking snakebite victims to hospital as there was no treatment and the mortality rate was very high. The people turned to their traditional witchdoctors for help. But soon the word spread that there was a snake farm in Watamu and bite victims started turning up on the Ashe’s doorstep desperate for help.

No one was ever turned away. If it was a non-venomous bite the victim was reassured and sent on his way. If it was a venomous bite, the victim, the antivenom and the Ashe’s would calmly get into the vehicle and get to the local clinic where Dr. Erulu would be waiting. Depending on many factors, such as the length of time since the bite, most survived.

The majority of snakebites in this area occur when people are out in the fields tending their crops or climbing trees to pick the fruit. These people are poor and there is no way they would be able to afford expensive medications such as antivenom. This became a problem as James and Sanda were treating people at their expense. James even settled an account once by accepting a basket of mangoes as payment for saving the child of a poor farmer!

One evening, James was discussing this with some friends over a beer at Ocean Sports (the local pub). It was decided that a ‘Harambee’ (fund raising) event be held among the local residents to help raise a kitty from which to buy the antivenom. This became unofficially named the ‘Watamu Antivenom Fund’ and was run from an ice cream container! From then on there were triathlons, local fair stalls and many other methods by which the fund got money.

In order to get the antivenom to Watamu the fund relied upon good willed travelers coming from South Africa. Before long though, the price of antivenom went up and, as word spread, more bites were coming in from further a field. At this point James Ashe and Sanda were joined by their long time friend and snake enthusiast Royjan Taylor, who suggested that a registered trust be formed in order to attract more substantial donations, set up a bank account and also to remain transparent for the revenue authorities. Royjan and Sanda were then joined by Melinda Rees and Shafiq Ebrahimjee of Watamu and Professor David Warrel of Oxford University as Trustees. It was agreed by the five Trustees in mid-2004 that it should be named after the man who started it all, THE JAMES ASHE ANTIVENOM TRUST or JAAT.

Since the formation of the trust (JAAT), it has gained huge support and recognition. It now holds a healthy stock of antivenom in a brand new fridge labeled ‘ANTIVENOM ONLY’

Many lives and limbs have been saved, not only by the antivenom, but by the spreading of information on the correct first aid treatment and prevention of snakes. Sanda has written and distributed her ‘Simple Steps’ leaflet (which is available in many languages) all over Kenya. People are encouraged to take the leaflet, photocopy it and distribute it liberally – Click here for an online copy. There is also a more detailed manual for snakebite treatment which is given to doctors providing they do the course with either Sanda or Royjan. It is thanks to JAAT that these manuals can be printed and these lessons given.

Please help us raise funds for snake bite treatment