We produce 1.5 million vials of ‘Anti-snake Venom’: Chairman Phuyal

As it is being established as a 'national industry of Nepal's pride', everyone's support is needed

Kathmandu- Hundreds of people are losing their lives every year due to snake bites in Nepal due to lack of timely medical treatment. This problem is especially prevalent in the Terai districts. The government’s efforts to prevent snake bites are not enough. Some are struggling with lack of treatment. In view of such a dire situation, preparations have been started to produce ‘Anti-snake Venom Serum’ in Sunsari district on private initiative. Auxiliary Health Worker (A.H.W), microbiologist and lab-technologist Laxmi Prasad Phuyal, who has been working in the medical branch of the Armed Police Force for about 12 years, is now seeing the possibility of producing snake bite medicine in Nepal. A group of snake experts including Phuyal, who is studying the possibility of producing snake bite medicine in Nepal, is setting an example by setting up Anti-snake Venom Serum Research and Manufacturing Private Limited in Barahakhshetra Municipality-3, Belaha, Bange. Sagar Aatreya, Editor-in-Chief of www.shinetouchkhabar.com, along with Phunyal, who is also the chairman of the company, has tried to know about the production of Anti-snake venom serum from different angles. Summary of the conversation between the Editor-in-Chief Aatreya and the Chairman of the company Phunyal.

Why and how did you come up with the idea that medicine can be produced in Nepal for the treatment of snake bites?

Even though the government spends a lot of money to buy snake medicine from India, there is a shortage of snake bite medicine in Nepal. Our company has seen the possibility of producing snake bite medicine in Nepal by holding some technical and expert discussions. We are working hard to make that possibility a reality. We are moving forward with the objective of filling the shortage of Anti-snake venom serum in Nepal so that no Nepali dies due to lack of medicine.

You said there is a lack of medicine? Where is the snake bite medicine coming from now?

There is an annual demand for 50,000 vials of snake bite medicine in Nepal. Out of that, the government of Nepal has to spend around Rs. 40 million to buy 30,000 vials of medicine from India annually. However, that is not enough. We are ready to move forward, working to fill that gap.

What kind of medicine is being used in Nepal and what medicine are you preparing to produce?

The snake bite used in Nepal is polyvinyl while the developed countries use monovenum. We want to make both polyvenum and monovenum. We are currently preparing for the production of Monovenum. We are initially aiming to produce 1.5 million vials. It is estimated that our products will be consumed in the Nepali market immediately. We are preparing for that.

How many people have lost their lives in Nepal without getting treatment for snake bites? How much medicine does a patient usually need?

According to the latest government statistics, about one thousand people are losing their lives in Nepal every year due to lack of treatment. After the bite of the snake, immediate and reliable treatment should be started immediately. Now, medicine is being used depending on the amount of venom. We do not have the technology to identify which species is bitten by a snake. Since the patient is given the medicine only after the poisoning, he may have to take 15 to 50/55 vials depending on his condition.

Are you starting production of Anti-snake Venom Serum from the private sector? What is the government support for the establishment of the company?

Of course, we are preparing to produce Anti-snake Venom Serum for the first time in Nepal. It is the responsibility of the government to assist in the operation of this company, which is being set up for the first time in Nepal with the investment of the private sector. The government needs to provide necessary policy and tax assistance, including assistance in research. Because we are developing a comfortable treatment for patients bitten by snakes. Visiting ministers and high-ranking government officials are also saying that they are about to establish themselves as a ‘national industry of Nepal’s pride’ and are cooperating. It remains to be seen what you will do in the future.

What is the cost of the industry you are going to set up and how many people are involved in it?

If the snake bite is not identified in Nepal, Polyvenum medicine is useful. It works on all types of snake bites and monovenum medicine is more useful if the snake is identified. The industry has been established to replace imports with exports. We have set up a company with an investment of Rs. 886.3 million with the target of producing 1.5 million vials of medicines annually. It has a team of about 20 friends from all walks of life. We need 400 employees, both technical and non-technical, to run the industry.

So, what process did you start to set up the company and how cumbersome was it?

Due to the lack of law in Nepal, the plan started many years ago has just started. We had been planning for four years, but it was delayed due to the provision of the then law of Nepal that does not allow wildlife to be used commercially. In 2012, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Anti-snake venom serum, a drug used to treat snake bites, should not be exported to India, saying it was not enough. Following the order, the Ministry of Health had started a feasibility study for the production of Anti-snake Venom Serum as the shortage of the drug was certain to increase in Nepal. The then Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 stated that wildlife could not be used commercially. However, a feasibility study conducted by the Government of Nepal stated that Anti-snake venom serum could be produced, leading to an end to legal complications. As per the initiative, the parliament has added Article 15A of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 BS in 2073 BS and brought a provision to use wildlife commercially with the permission of the government. Since snake venom is needed as a raw material to produce snake bite medicine, we repeatedly approached the government to seek permission from the government to breed snakes, but it was delayed due to the negligence of the responsible person. Two years ago, we applied to the concerned ministries, including the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, to be the first to conduct snake breeding and research to produce snake bite medicine. We are now working on completing all the procedures. If there is no interruption, we will bring the product to the market in the next two years.

How does a company you set up make snake bite medicine?

People do not die as soon as they are bitten by a snake. The cause of death is panic. Snake venom and horse blood are essential to make medicine. In order to produce medicine, the medicine can be made from the blood of the horse after the snake venom is first sent to the horse by injection. Horses and snakes need to be reared along with physical infrastructure for the production of snake bite medicine. After the snake venom is injected into the horse, every 3 ३ 3 months we donate blood to the horse and start the process for the production of Anti-snake venom serum through plasma. One horse can produce at least 70 vials up to four times a year. The target is to produce 1.5 million vials of Anti-snake venom serum annually after two years. This requires about five hundred snakes and both horses. With the beginning of the industry, snake collection and horse breeding have started here. After producing Anti-snake Venom Serum, it is targeted to be exported to Nepal and other countries including Asia and Africa. For all regions of Nepal, up to one million vials of Anti-snake venom serum are required annually. Even if India does not give enough anti-venom to Nepal now, when we start production, we will go to the village and municipality level with an awareness program to open snake bite treatment centers.

What are your future plans and how do you get support from the locals?

We are thinking of using eight bighas of land to build the necessary physical infrastructure along with snake and horse breeding. There have been delays due to legal and other hurdles. Now that all the procedures have been completed, the construction of physical infrastructure is moving forward. We will probably start production within the next two years. For the time being, we have set a target of producing 1.5 million vials of medicine annually. The support of the locals is also good. Purna Bahadur Karki, a local of Barahakhshetra Municipality-5, has provided us a horse for free. It clearly shows the support and goodwill of the locals towards us. We would like to thank Karki for providing the horse.