About Us

About Us

Developments of Antivenoms in Southern Africa

Snake Antivenom

Antivenom production began at the South African Institute of Medical Research (now known as NHLS- National Health Laboratory Service) as early as 1928. The initial antivenoms produced were limited to Cape Cobra & Puff Adder, and in 1938 the venom from the Gaboon Adder was incorporated into the immunization schedule.
In 1941 this polyvalent range was expanded to incorporate the venom from the Rinkhals. During the 1950’s & 1960’s several Monovalent & trivalent antivenoms to the Southern African mambas were developed (Black, Green & Jamesons Mamba), and by 1971 the original polyvalent antivenom was extended to incorporate these valencies.

Other venoms later incorporated into the immunization schedule in the 1970s were the Snouted cobra, (previously known as Egyptian Cobra), Forest cobra & the Mozambican Spitting cobra resulting in the 10 valencies making up the current polyvalent, which has remained unchanged to date.

The Monovalent Boomslang antivenom was developed during the 1940s.

Monovalent antivenom specific against the saw scaled viper (Echis ocellatus / pyramidum) became available in 1959 after a request from American missionaries in Nigeria.

Spider Antivenom

The production of antivenom against Latrodectus indistinctus (black widow spider) began in 1949, and is prepared by the same process used for the production of snake antivenom.

Scorpion Antivenom

A request from the Union Defence Medical Services in the 1940s led to the production of Scorpion antivenom against the species Parabuthus transvaalicus.

Who are we?

The National Health Laboratory Service is a public health laboratory service. With laboratories in all nine provinces, employing 6,700 people. Its activities comprise diagnostic laboratory services, research, teaching and training, and production of sera for antivenom for snake, spider and scorpion envenomation, reagents and media.


South African Vaccine Producers (the Antivenom Unit), National Institute for Communicable Diseases, National Institute for Occupational Health and National Cancer Registry are divisions of the NHLS.


The SAVP has positioned itself as an Employer of Choice in the health professional field. See our Vacancies on the NHLS Website for suitable positions.