DUBAI // Hand sanitiser pumps in hospital corridors may come under review as part of a Ministry of Health investigation into an incident in an Ajman hospital that left a young boy blind in one eye.
Yousef ben Lafi, 6, was at GMC Hospital with his mother when he reached for the sanitiser to clean his hands and the liquid squirted into his left eye.
Doctors washed out the eye immediately and prescribed antibiotics, but the hospital ophthalmology report confirmed loss of vision due to "an accidental chemical burn".
Dr Amin Al Amiri, the assistant undersecretary for medical practices and licensing at the ministry, confirmed there would be a full investigation into the incident. "We will speak to the parents and to the doctors," he said. "We will investigate and the matter will go to consultants who will form a committee."
He said there were already international regulations in place concerning the use of hand sanitisers in hospitals, but added: "Our investigation will cover all aspects and it will also go to a higher committee. Our report will be as per the recommendations of the technical committee."
GMC Hospital has insisted it is not guilty of any negligence but says it will place warning signs at the pumps in future.
"We are looking into it and will put up the signs," said Tapash Lodh, the hospital's media relations officer. "But this is a one-of-a-kind case because so many parents and children use these sanitisers - it's in all the hospitals. Still, we do not want this repeated so we'll put up signs."
Dispensers are placed in all hospital corridors according to ministry guidelines.
Doctors agreed the units would only be moved if the ministry recommended it.
"It's always at a level that younger children cannot reach," said Dr Abdul Razzaq Al Madani, the director of Dubai Hospital. "Even if a warning is put up, it's not as if it will always be observed. Sometimes things happen and nothing can be done."
Dr GY Naroo from the Emergency Department at Rashid Hospital Trauma Centre agreed, adding: "It's not in any international guidelines to place warning signs but appropriate measures can and will be taken once advised by authorities."
Yousef's father Hisham, an account executive at a Dubai food distribution company, said his son had used hand sanitisers before. "One hundred per cent, this would not have happened if the liquid came down properly and not into his eye," he said.
"I asked him again and again: Did you jump? He said 'no', that he asked his mother if he could use the sanitiser.
"If my wife knew the sanitiser was so dangerous she would have not told him to use it. He went to clean his hands and lost his eye."
Ophthalmologists at GMC and Khalifa Hospital, where Yousef's parents sought a second opinion, have both recommended a stem cell transplant.
Available in the US, Europe and Singapore, the treatment takes stem cells from a healthy eye and grows these on an amniotic membrane from the damaged eye. After a few months, once a colony of cells develops, the membrane is transplanted and vision may be restored.
"There are successes but the results are sometimes not permanent and the cornea could become cloudy again," explained Edmondo Borasio, a corneal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital.
"The prognosis for children is more guarded because children are at higher risk for infections and complications. The younger the child, the more limited the prognosis."
GMC Hospital has said it will not cover the cost of overseas surgery, but will pay for in-house treatment.
"We are not responsible," said Mr Lodh. "It would have been different if we had done something drastically wrong but we are nowhere in the picture."