Snake bite menace threatening lives in Kitui County

Mwanthi Maliwa from Wingemi village was amputated three times at Mwingi District Hospital and Embu Provincial Hospital to save his life. Photo : Ken Ndambu
Mwanthi Maliwa from Wingemi village was amputated three times at Mwingi District Hospital and Embu Provincial Hospital to save his life. Photo : Ken Ndambu

To the residents of Kitui County danger larks everywhere in the form of poisonous serpents. This has led to a high level of snake bites among residents of Kitui County that is now worrying.

Every other day such cases are reported to the medical personnel who make frantic efforts to save survivors, some of who have had their limbs amputated.

One of the cases is that of Kathini Mulyungi, who was bitten while sleeping in bed with her two sisters on October 20, 2009.

Her academic dreams were shattered at Mwingi Primary School as she had to spend four months in hospital. When she resumed classes, she had to repeat a class to learn how to write with her left hand as the other one had been amputated.

Says Mulyungi: “We were asleep with my two sisters in our rural home in Ithumbi, Mwingi North Sub-county when a black cobra found its way into our room and attacked me. I was forced to take cover under the bed while my mother rattled and killed it.”

Although she was given first aid, the hand swelled very fast making her to develop breathing problems.

Her mother took her Mwingi Level Four Hospital, but doctors could not handle the case. Instead they referred her to Embu Provincial Hospital where the hand was amputated to save her life.
“Though I have healed, I cannot do anything even minor jobs and have to rely on my relatives to help me,” Mulyungi explains.

Deaths

Mulyungi’s is just one of the many cases of snake bites that have now become a menace in Kitui County. The Kenya Wildlife Services estimate that at least three people succumb to snake bites every month.

Mwanthi Maliwa’s left leg was amputated at the neighbouring Embu Provincial Hospital in Embu County, after he was attacked by a puff adder in Wingemi Village, Nuu Location of Mwingi East Sub-County.

“I was grazing cattle in the fields when a huge snake appeared from a tree shade, bit me and coiled itself around my legs,” explains Maliwa. He says the reptile was very fierce and continued biting him repeatedly until villagers came to his rescue. Ever since that deadly incident Maliwa has been using crutches to walk.

“When I arrived at the hospital four hours after the bite, the lower part of my leg had rotten necessitating doctors to chop it off before referring me to Embu Provincial Hospital for further treatment,” recalls Maliwa.

In Nduvani Village, Simon Kithonga, a primary school teacher died 30 minutes after he was attacked by a cobra near his poultry house three days after his sister was attacked by a similar snake.

Attack

“My son had just arrived home from school at 7pm and as he passed by the poultry house, the snake emerged and bit him on the chest,” his mother, Mary Kithonga, says.

Simeon Mutua, head teacher at Kazunguni Primary School in Zombe Location, says his motorbike is always on standby to take snake bite victims, especially pupils to Zombe Health Centre as cases of snake bites rise.

“When the sun is scorching hot, the snakes hide under the sandy soils and later emerge and attack when rattled. During the night the reptiles just remain in the foot paths,” explains Mutua.

According to Peter Musyoka, coordinator Visionary Advocacy for Desperate Cases (VADCA), a community based organisation which strives to mitigate against snake bites in Mwingi, in the past 10 years, over 300 cases have been reported in Mwingi District.

These included 97 fatal cases, while 80 victims were maimed and were forced to have one of their limbs amputated.

“The core value of the organisation is to sensitise the residents on how to improve environment around their homesteads to wade of snakes and at the same time educate them on how to administer first-aid to the survivors,” explains Musyoka.

According to Musyoka, snake bite menace is common along the Mui Coal Basin and the most common and lethal species are cobras, puff adders and pythons.

For first aid, Musyoka advises the victims to wash the affected spots with raw water and soap as snake venom is acidic and to neutralize it some alkaline like calcium hydroxide should be used. Records at Mwingi District Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) shows that the area has the highest cases of snake bite in the country and these are linked to climate change.

Record

“Every month we record 10 to 15 cases of snake bites that come to fill compensation forms and the number continues to increase,” says Joseph Njue, a game warden.

Njue notes that delay in settling compensation claims is caused by victims’ failure to fill in the forms in time.

“Claims that have been launched in time are processed and the dues paid as soon as possible,” says Njue.

According to Peter Mutemi, former Executive Director of Mwingi based Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE), the law governing compensation for wildlife victims should be amended as the money given is too little. Currently those who die from snake bite get KSh200,000 while those who survive receive between KSh15,000 and KSh50,000 regardless of the severity of the attack.

However, Temi Mutia, Director Regional Institute for Social Enterprise and Environment, says the rising snake bite menace in Mwingi can be attributed to the fast diminishing forest cover.

“High rate of charcoal burning, drying of rivers resulting to harsh climatic condition has driven snakes from their habitat to co-exist with human beings resulting to the conflict,” explains Mutia.

Meanwhile, Josphat Mutinda, clinical officer in charge of snake bites at Mwingi District Hospital says: “Snake bite victims should get treatment in less than 24 hours but some victims reach health centres even after three days when the condition has deteriorated.”

Population

The snake population in the county is, however, set to reduce if the county government completes establishment of a kSh13 million snake park at Mwingi Plant Sanctuary where a botanical garden has been earmarked.

“We hope with establishment of a snake park, dangerous snake species will be contained in one place where tourists can also get a chance to
view them,” observes Peter Nkunda, the County Executive for Tourism and Natural
Resources.

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