To Save Troops From Deadly Snakes, US Relies on ... Iran

Despite sanctions, we buy antivenin through middleman

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 3, 2012 8:35 AM CST

(Newser) – The US leads the charge when it comes to economic sanctions against Iran—but when American soldiers' health is at stake, the military is willing to do a little business with the Islamic republic. Iran produces antivenin against the poisonous snakes of Afghanistan; our own antivenins are toothless against such bites, as they're made from domestic species. Working through a middleman, the US has bought 115 $310 vials of the stuff since January 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal's reporting has prompted a military review to see whether the practice violates sanctions rules. If so, a government waiver may be needed.

According to US Central Command, antivenin from the Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute in Iran "should be the first line of antivenin therapy" against Afghan snakes, an officer says. And Razi is OK with that: "We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," says a researcher. Razi, which has ties to the World Health Organization, makes the antivenin by injecting small amounts of snake poison into horses, who then produce antibodies against it. But sanctions could cramp Razi's work: It's finding it difficult to obtain the chemicals and gear it needs to produce the substance.

In this photo taken Tuesday, May 4, 2010, a US Army staff sergeant holds up a harmless rat snake that he found crawling around the outpost in the dark, in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
In this photo taken Tuesday, May 4, 2010, a US Army staff sergeant holds up a harmless rat snake that he found crawling around the outpost in the dark, in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.   (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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The Iranian antivenin is the best, and our guys deserve the best. - Col. Rob Russell, US medical officer

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