Snapshot: Swaziland


Mduduzi Gcina is an 8 year old boy, for a time it looked like he would only live half that long.

Mduduzi, aged 4 years, recovering from Mozambique spitting cobra bites to both arms.

On the morning of 16th December, 2008 he was bitten on both arms by a snake whilst sleeping on the family bed inside a modest stone-walled bush home.

Mozambique spitting cobra

His wounds were typical of Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica) bites. These feisty snakes rarely measure more than a metre or so long, but they are pugnacious, spitting to defend themselves against animals and humans, but also more than happy to bite in self-defense. They often enter houses, sheds, outdoor latrines and other buildings as they forage for food. In Mduduzi’s case the snake was suspected to have come into the home through holes in the stone walls of the building.

His mother took him to a clinic in the area but was referred to a hospital in Nhlangano the following day as they were unable to assist. In Nhlangano they were once again referred onwards; this time to Mbabane government hospital, Swaziland’s main public hospital in the capital.

After arriving there some 2 days after the snakebite, Mduduzi spent 5 days in hospital before his father took him away, because he feared that the doctors apparently wanted to amputate Mduduzi’s left arm. While at the hospital he had received no antivenom treatment, and had only been given intravenous fluids and paracetamol for his pain. After being removed from the hospital by his father, Mduduzi received no medical help for more than 9 weeks.

Mduduzi after 9 weeks without medical care.

When Mduduzi’s family finally heard that a couple in Simunye, amid the sugar cane fields of Swaziland’s eastern lowlands had a reputation for helping the victims of snakebite, they cautiously brought Mduduzi to see Thea Litschka-Koen and Clifton Koen. Thea and Clifton took him to a private clinic where he received medical treatment. But his father refused to let him stay overnight as he was still afraid doctors would amputate his son’s arm.

Thea’s mother had to talk to the father to try and persuade him that it would be better if Mduduzi stayed in hospital, not to mention much less expensive than transporting him from his homestead to the clinic and back every day, as well as paying a daily consultation fee. Mduduzi’s family had NO money.

The father was himself extremely ill and unable to work, so getting proper medical help for Mduduzi had been impossible. His treatment was very basic. Antibiotics, wound cleansing and fresh dressings daily. No debridement had been performed, but a skin graft appeared essential if recovery was to take place.

In desperation Thea sought help from the global community of reptile keepers via the Internet. An immediate response followed with donations of money from as far away as the United Kingdom and Papua New Guinea making it possible for Mduduzi to finally receive the treatment he needed. A few weeks later Mduduzi was doing fine. The wounds were starting to heal and the infection was under control. He was being prepared for a skin graft and was undergoing physiotherapy.

Mduduzi on the mend.

The doctor agreed to keep the costs as low as possible and was joined by volunteers who offered to treat Mduduzi at cost or for free. Even so, his skin graft would still cost around R3500 (USD$450), with another R800 (USD$100) for physiotherapy and R1200 (USD$160) for consultation fees and medication. But for Thea and her family, this was still much less than they had expected, and it put an end to her sleepless nights worrying about how she could possibly pay for everything. But more good news followed, SA Reptiles a group of reptile enthusiasts from southern Africa had passed the hat around and came up with the money to pay for the physiotherapy.

Although he will always have scars to remind him of his encounter with the cobra, Mduduzi now faces a much brighter future than before. He now has functional use of both arms, and will grow into a strong, healthy young man. All thanks to the persistence and dedication of Thea, Clifton and her team of supporters and volunteers at AntivenomSwazi, and to a global community of reptile enthusiasts and herpetologists who dug deep to help a small boy in need.