James Ashe Antivenom Trust
Saving Life and Limb from Snakebite
To be bitten by a poisonous snake is everyone’s worst nightmare. In Africa this happens to people quite regularly especially to those in the rural communities. The primary objective of the James Ashe Antivenom Trust (JAAT) is to reduce the number of deaths and maiming caused by those many snakebites.
How it all began …
When James Ashe and his wife Sanda first came to set up Bio-Ken Snake Farm in Watamu many years ago, it was a risky business. They were in the middle of nowhere and dealing with many different and highly venomous snakes. Once they were settled they arranged to get hold of some antivenom, which they kept in their fridge. It was a costly, but necessary, addition to their first aid kit.
Meanwhile, local people had practically given up taking snakebite victims to hospital as there was no treatment and the mortality rate was very high. The people turned to their traditional witchdoctors for help. But soon the word spread that there was a snake farm in Watamu and bite victims started turning up on the Ashe’s doorstep desperate for help.
No one was ever turned away. If it was a non-venomous bite the victim was reassured and sent on his way. If it was a venomous bite, the victim, the antivenom and the Ashe’s would calmly get into the vehicle and get to the local clinic where Dr. Erulu would be waiting. Depending on many factors, such as the length of time since the bite, most survived.
The majority of snakebites in this area occur when people are out in the fields tending their crops or climbing trees to pick the fruit. These people are poor and there is no way they would be able to afford expensive medications such as antivenom. This became a problem as James and Sanda were treating people at their expense. James even settled an account once by accepting a basket of mangoes as payment for saving the child of a poor farmer!
One evening, James was discussing this with some friends over a beer at Ocean Sports (the local pub). It was decided that a ‘Harambee’ (fund raising) event be held among the local residents to help raise a kitty from which to buy the antivenom. This became unofficially named the ‘Watamu Antivenom Fund’ and was run from an ice cream container! From then on there were triathlons, local fair stalls and many other methods by which the fund got money.
In order to get the antivenom to Watamu the fund relied upon good willed travelers coming from South Africa. Before long though, the price of antivenom went up and, as word spread, more bites were coming in from further a field. At this point James Ashe and Sanda were joined by their long time friend and snake enthusiast Royjan Taylor, who suggested that a registered trust be formed in order to attract more substantial donations, set up a bank account and also to remain transparent for the revenue authorities. Royjan and Sanda were then joined by Melinda Rees and Shafiq Ebrahimjee of Watamu and Professor David Warrel of Oxford University as Trustees. It was agreed by the five Trustees in mid-2004 that it should be named after the man who started it all, THE JAMES ASHE ANTIVENOM TRUST or JAAT.
Since the formation of the trust (JAAT), it has gained huge support and recognition. It now holds a healthy stock of antivenom in a brand new fridge labeled ‘ANTIVENOM ONLY’.
Many lives and limbs have been saved, not only by the antivenom, but by the spreading of information on the correct first aid treatment and prevention of snakes. Sanda has written and distributed her ‘Simple Steps’ leaflet (which is available in many languages) all over Kenya. People are encouraged to take the leaflet, photocopy it and distribute it liberally. There is also a more detailed manual for snakebite treatment which is given to doctors providing they do the course with either Sanda or Royjan. It is thanks to JAAT that these manuals can be printed and these lessons given.
Please visit or contact us about donations or fund raising at:
THE JAMES ASHE ANTIVENOM TRUST – (JAAT )
H.Q. & A.V. AT BIO-KEN SNAKE FARM, WATAMU
P.O. BOX 3, WATAMU, KENYA. (P/Code 80202)
TEL : 00 254 42 23 32303 OR MOB : 00 254 718 290324
ALL DONATIONS GO TO THE DIRECT PURCHASE OF ANTIVENOM OR TO THE EDUCATION OF DOCTORS AND MEDICAL PERSONNEL ON THE CORRECT TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF SNAKEBITE.