Australia-PNG anti-venom partnership extended for another two years

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A partnership between Australia and Papua New Guinea under which anti-venom is donated to save the lives of people bitten or stung by venomous snakes and marine creatures has been extended for two years.

The partnership is an initiative of PNG’s National Department of Health, the Australian government and CSL's Seqirus. It is managed and operated by the Charles Campbell Toxinology Laboratory (CCTL) in Port Moresby (a University of Melbourne collaboration with the University of PNG).

PNG has one of the highest localised snakebite rates in the world - with mortality rates in some parts of the country three times higher than malaria or tuberculosis.

However, more than 500 lives have been saved over the last three years through improved access to the timely administration of anti-venom by trained healthcare workers as a result of the partnership.

Seqirus is donating up to 600 vials of anti-venom a year to PNG, with the Australian government providing financial support for the management and distribution of the anti-venom, in addition to the training of healthcare workers on snakebite patient management.

CCTL is located on the University of PNG campus in Port Moresby and is staffed by a qualified pharmacist and snakebite nurse. This team manages the distribution of anti-venoms to more than 65 healthcare clinics, many in rugged and remote areas across PNG, as well as the training of healthcare workers and the collection of epidemiological data relating to snakebites and patient management.

In its first three years, the partnership has distributed 1,450 vials of Seqirus anti-venoms, trained hundreds of healthcare workers with snakebite specific clinical training, visited more than 65 health care centres to provide training on snakebite management and snakebite reporting and supported the government of PNG including the Medical Supplies Branch to develop capacity and sustainability for anti-venom supply.

PNG's minister for health and HIV/AIDs, Jelta Wong, said, “We welcome the renewal of this partnership to increase access to anti-venoms in PNG. Snakebites continue to be a serious public health issue and the improved supply and specialist training is helping to save lives and reduce the burden of snakebites in PNG."

Jon Philp, Australia’s High Commissioner to PNG, said he was delighted to continue Australia’s support for the project. 

“Australia is proud to be working together with our PNG and private sector partners to reduce the impact of snakebites and improve health outcomes in PNG. The PNG Snakebite Partnership is improving development outcomes by upskilling healthcare workers and improving access to life-saving medicine.” 

Seqirus executive director of commercial for Australia and New Zealand, Dani Dowell, said the company was proud to support this important partnership. 

“Seqirus has a long history of manufacturing anti-venoms for some of the world’s deadliest creatures, and we are proud to be continuing this partnership with regular donations. Timely access to anti-venom is critical in responding to snake envenomation, and we are pleased to be playing an important role in improving access to anti-venoms in PNG, so that they can get the care they need." 

Dr Andrew Watt, the co-head of the Australian Venom Research Unit at The University of Melbourne, said the partnership is not just about support today, but building capacity for the future. 

"Our team at the University of Melbourne are proud to support the PNG Snakebite Partnership through our training of health care workers and distributing life-saving Australian anti-venoms to health centres across Papua New Guinea, including hard to get to regional and remote areas which further highlights the importance of the training we provide. The partnership is not only about saving lives today, it is also ensuring that health centres across PNG have the knowledge and medicines to save lives well into the future.”