Dr Tarek Al Azzabi
Dr Tarek Al Azzabi, Consultant paediatrician at Al Ain Hospital. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A 24-hour anti-poisoning and drug information centre needs to be established in order to reduce the risk of complications from accidental poisoning, medical professionals in the capital said on Thursday. Such a centre would not only allow for many of the simpler cases to be quickly resolved at home, but would also provide medical professionals with any assistance required, said Dr. Tarek Al Azzabi, consultant paediatrician at Al Ain Hospital.

“In poisoning cases, it is always a battle against time, and having access to information from a specialist centre would be invaluable,” Dr Al Azzabi added. “At the same time, it is also important for residents to follow basic safety guidelines. For instance, it is a bad idea to store medicines in non-childproof containers, or household chemicals out of their original containers.”

Dr Al Azzabi was speaking on the sidelines of the Seha International Paediatric Conference, which kicked off in the capital on Thursday. The three-day conference, organised by public health provider Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), will see about 700 medical professionals discussing advances and challenges in paediatric care.

Accidental poisoning was found to be a common concern in the emirate, with 475 children reporting to the emergency department of Al Ain Hospital between 2011 and 2014. The majority of cases were among children aged up to five years, with medications and household chemicals found to be the most common poisons.

“In about 80 per cent of cases, the substance had been stored outside its original container, like bleach stored in a water bottle, for instance. This can easily confuse a child, and is an unsafe practice,” said Dr Al Azzabi.

Another study using 2016 data from the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) in the capital found that medications were responsible for 66 per cent of poisoning cases, whereas children had accidentally consumed bleach in 14 per cent of cases. More than half the patients were aged two years or younger, according to Dr Salama Al Sahli, paediatric resident at SKMC.

“We learnt that 99.6 per cent of poisonings occurred at home, and this is always worrisome,” she said.

Doctors therefore called for residents to be more vigilant around children. They also called for a round-the-clock service that provides urgent advice in cases of poisoning. The Abu Dhabi Department of Health already runs a poisoning and drug information centre, but it is only functional on weekdays between 7am and 3pm. “While we saw no fatalities in our study, it is crucial to treat poisoning cases as urgently as possible. This is why a 24-hour centre or hotline would be especially beneficial,” said Dr Al Azzabi.