They moved to Nguni health centre but sadly Stephen passed away. “His body had turned black and was gasping for breath. It was painful to watch him die,” said Stephen’s uncle, James Musya.
The same fate befell Simon Kithonga, 30, a teacher from Mui location. A cobra resting inside a chicken coop bit him twice on the chest as he inspected the house. The lethal venom quickly engulfed his body and in no time he was dead.
Hiding under the bed
Kitui County, and especially Mwingi is home to venomous snakes, which have for long claimed lives or left victims disabled.
Lucky ones like Kathini Mulyungi, 28, have survived snake bites but lost limbs. Mulyungi was bitten by a rattle snake while asleep after it slithered into her bedroom.
“I felt something cold rub against my body and when I touched it, it struck my right arm,” she says. On lighting a torch she saw the snake hiding under the bed. It was later killed by her relatives.
She was rushed to Mwingi District Hospital and got a referral to Embu Provincial General Hospital (PGH), about 120km away. Mulyungi’s condition deteriorated and she was losing consciousness.
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“I cannot remember how we got to Embu. What I remember is waking up two days later only to realise my arm had been amputated,” said Mulyungi with a forlorn look.
Mwanthi Maliwa was also struck by a puff udder after he accidentally stepped on it while grazing goats in Nuu location.
“It struck my right leg near the ankle and coiled itself around it but I managed to shake it off and ran away,” he said.
The poor road network saw him get to Mwingi hospital after several hours. By this time, his leg was rotting away and doctors amputated it before they referred him to Embu PGH. At Embu, a second amputation was performed since the leg had swollen after the venom spread.
And a black mamba attack left Musyoki Musyoka, 16, with an impaired vision and a withering palm.
Records at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) office in Mwingi show the region has the highest cases of snake bites in Kenya with 10 to 15 cases reported monthly.
Dr Boniface Kimuyu, the Mwingi sub county Medical Officer of Health told the Saturday Standard that unlike in the past, health facilities have enough stocks of anti-venom. These are Mwingi level IV hospital and Nuu sub county hospital as well as eight health centres spread across the region.
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“The county government has trained enough nurses and clinical officers to manage snake bites even at the peripheral areas,” Kimuyu said, noting that a snake bite victim should get to a health facility as soon as possible to avert loss of lives.
One man however has taken it upon himself to mitigate effects of snake bites, Peter Musyoka, a retired Mathematics, Physics and Chemist teacher claims that he has found a cheaper alternative for anti-venom after years of research.
For more than 20 years, Musyoka has been treating snake bite victims using drugs available in chemists. Saving lives of victims who would have otherwise died in their efforts to access hospitals located kilometres away has made him a household name.
At his office in Mwingi, he showed us a bottle of hydrocortisone sodium succinate, a drug in powder form which ordinarily is used to treat allergies. He explained that when right quantities of the drug are mixed with water, it becomes a base which effectively neutralises venom upon injection.
“A snake’s venom is acidic and must be neutralised by a base, say like hydrocortisone. Upon injection, the base prevents blood from clotting. And because the venom is a dehydrant, I administer a glass of glucolised water to the victim after every 10 minutes to hydrate the body. Once the patient passes urine, it is a sign that the venom has been neutralised.
No doctor in sight
For his research on the treatment regimen for snake bites, Musyoka was invited for a public lecture on snake bites by the School of Pure and Applied Science at the South Eastern Kenya University in November last year and was awarded a recommendation letter.
His latest patient is Lena Mwanzia who three weeks ago was brought to his ‘clinic’ while unconscious after a black mamba attack. After few hours, she went back home in good health.
Twelve years ago, he saved Ruth Joshua, 30, from the clutches of death after a brush with a black mamba. Known in Kamba as Nguua, the aggressive snake has the ability to strike several times and has toxic venom.
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For treatment to be successful, up to 12 vials of anti-venom must be administered in quick succession.
“She was unconscious and everyone thought she would die but I administered diluted hydrocortisone and adrenalin shots through her thighs and arm. After some time she woke up and sat down, I knew she would survive,” Musyoka said.
“Were it not for him, I would be dead because after the bite, I was rushed to Mathuki Health Centre but there was no doctor in sight. He saved my life,” said Joshua.
With the recent listing of snakebites among the Neglected Tropical Diseases, it is expected that the serious public health concern in sub- Saharan Africa will receive the required attention and funding for accessible and affordable anti-venom following the unanimous resolutions of several nations at World Health Assembly in Geneva.