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Ghana Life: More About Ghana's Snakes

April 24, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 192

On a visit to a clinic in a small town in rural Ghana an opportunity arose to glance through the incident record book. This documented what might now be described as the accident and emergency activity of the clinic. It was interesting to observe that most of the patients seemed to be farmers and the two most frequent incidents that brought them to the clinic were cutlass wounds, mostly accidentally self-inflicted, and snake bites. This provoked a brief enquiry into how the rural inhabitants of Ghana have sought to deal with the ever-present danger of venomous serpents.

The medical workers at the clinic were quite clear on the approved standard procedure to be followed by anyone bitten by a snake: try to kill the snake and bring it to the clinic for identification so that appropriate action can be taken. This was easier said than done, but a farmer armed with a hoe or cutlass was expected to have a sporting chance of exacting revenge on his assailant. Those who failed to report with a corpse were expected to come with an accurate description that would allow the offending reptile to be identified. Then, in this best of all possible worlds, the corresponding anti-venom would be administered and the farmer would return to his cultivation.

Not even rural Ghana is the best of all possible worlds, and in practice things do not always go according to plan. Since non-venomous species of snakes are reported to outnumber venomous species by four to one, relatively harmless bites are quite common. Farmers frequently arrive at the clinic with the mortal remains of a non-poisonous species. Experience has shown that death can still result if no therapy is given, and so the availability of a placebo is essential. Then, in cases where genuine anti-venom is required, it is not always available because all medical supplies are scarce, especially in remote rural areas. It is in such cases that resort to traditional methods becomes necessary.

The doctor in charge of the clinic had great faith in his time-honoured antidote to snakebite, which he somewhat reluctantly showed to the favoured enquirer. Pulling open the top right-hand drawer of his desk he allowed a brief glimpse of a plant root that resembled the tubers of ginger. Although he claimed that it was as effective as the medicines supplied by the government, he could provide no supporting statistics and would reveal no details of the method of administration. More convincing was the prophylactic treatment described by Ernest Bentil, in spite of the fact that Ernest possessed no medical qualifications.

On a trek in the bush in the 1970s it became necessary for someone to leave the relative safety of the beaten path and plunge into head-high elephant grass. Without hesitation, Ernest volunteered for the task, announcing that he was immune to snake-bite. Upon his safe return he was questioned on how he acquired his immunity. 'It was my grandfather,' he began, 'He used to treat all our family while we were small children. He would catch a venomous snake and squeeze out the venom. Then he boiled the venom, and when it had cooled he injected it into us using a snake fang.'

Ernest's grandfather's method seems just credible because it resembles a primitive form of the process of anti-viral immunisation now widely practiced in modern medicine. However, it is not possible here to provide a full scientific analysis of the many issues it raises. Suffice it to say that it endowed Ernest with as strong a belief in his immunity as the belief of many farmers that all untreated snakebites are fatal.

John Powell

To learn more about the intriguing story of the grassroots industrial revolution in the turbulent Ghana of the second half of the twentieth century, read John Powell's novel The Colonial Gentleman's Son or his non-fictional account The Survival of the Fitter. More details of these books and photographs of the informal sector artisans of Suame Magazine in Kumasi will be found on the following websites.

Source: EzineArticles
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Rural Ghana




Snake Bites


Anti Venom




Self Inflicted Wounds


Traditional Methods

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