Logos of
Global Snakebite Initiative
Australian Venom Research Unit.

July 7th to September 4th 2013

The Papua New Guinea Snakebite Project

PNG has a snakebite problem!

Although it's population is approximately 1/4 that of Australia it suffers a much higher incidence of snakebite mortality than its southern neighbour, despite the fact PNG is home to many of the same, or closely related, venomous snake species.

The primary medically important snakes here are the Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni) Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus), New Guinea small-eyed snake (Micropechis ikaheka) and the Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis).

Medically Important Papuan Snakes
Papuan taipan
Oxyuranus scutellatus canni
Papuan blacksnake
Pseudechis papuanus
New Guinea small-eyed snake
Micropechis ikaheka
Smooth-scaled death adder
Acanthophis laevis

Other potential threats include the New Guinea brownsnake (Pseudonaja textilis), Pigmy mulga snake (Pseudechis rossignolii) Black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata), Rough-scaled death adder (Acanthophis rugosus) and Müller's crowned snake (Aspidomorphus muelleri), and that is still not a complete list of the venomous (elapid) snakes of New Guinea. Whereas Australia may suffer 2-8 snakebite fatalities per year this number may be multiplied 50-fold in PNG.

Australian antivenoms are available for snakebite in PNG but they are costly and the country's are frequently depleated, with the subsequent loss of lives. The AVRU project is working towards the production of a more economically available but equally effective antivenom to match the Australian product. Since the main culprit implicated in serious snakebites is the Papuan taipan, this species is the primary target species of the project and of antivenom production, but not to the exclusion of the other medically important species. Upon arrival in Port Moresby Dave told me he had seen 80 snakebites in the past two months, all of whom had survived due to availability of antivenom and the expert treatment available at Port Moresby General Hospital, where the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre*, David Williams established, is based.

*Charles Campbell was an early pioneer of snakebite treatment and research in Papua New Guinea.