Experts say a national poison-control centre that operates 24 hours a day is needed.
'24-hour poison centre would cut mistreated cases'
A 24-hour poison control centre staffed by trained toxicologists would significantly reduce the number of mistreated cases, experts say.
The only dedicated facility in the UAE is the Poison and Drug Information Centre (PDIC), which is regulated by the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad).
The centre, accessible via a toll-free hotline, offers information about various poisons but only operates between 7am and 3pm. After that, callers are asked to contact their nearest hospital. But doctors say this is not enough.
"We need a national point of contact that operates 24 hours a day," said Dr Mohamed Baniyas, a consultant chemical toxicologist with Tawam Hospital in Al Ain. "What we have now works more as an information centre than one for treatment or control."
Dr Joseph Manna, chairman of the emergency department at Al Ain Hospital, said a dedicated poison control centre would benefit doctors and patients.
"Most doctors are familiar with the common poisons but they could use the centre as a second reference for information," he said. "Once I had a person come in with a scorpion bite, and I ended up contacting the poison centre in Arizona to get information. A poison centre for the public would be very helpful."
Dr Yasser Sharif, head of the PDIC and section head of medication and medical products safety at Haad, said the health authority has taken the recommendation seriously, and plans are under way to make the service operate for 24 hours.
The centre assesses callers and advises them how to handle situations at home. In future, the facility would contact the emergency department of the patient's hospital and alert them that someone would be coming in with a certain condition.
Dr Sharif did not say when the 24-hour service would begin operating.
"We need to ensure we have the qualified professionals this will require," he said. "We are really working hard to make this happen."
Once the centre begins operating as a 24-hour service, it will be easier for officials to collate data.
What makes data in Abu Dhabi unique, said Dr Sharif, is that poison cases were almost even between adults and children.
Internationally, the incidence rate among children is usually more than 70 per cent of the total. Dr Sharif attributed this to underreporting - both from hospitals and homes.
Conditions are also being misdiagnosed and improper coding of poisons used on insurance forms.
Some poison cases are miscoded simply because doctors are not familiar with the accurate coding.
"Many times, parents try to handle the situation themselves without professional help, which is not safe," said Dr Sharif. "For example, they may induce their child to vomit."
He added that hospitals sometimes inaccurately identified conditions on forms so insurance companies would cover treatment costs.
Dubai Municipality's food control department has recommended forming a team alongside experts from their pest control department and police officials.
The unit would quickly and efficiently identify the source - chemical or food - of a patient's sickness and facilitate proper treatment.
Last year, the department proposed setting up a notification and identification centre for food poisoning cases at a federal level, which is yet to take effect.
Private and public hospitals in Dubai are required to notify the municipality as soon as they suspect patients of food poisoning.
The municipality said its system of notification and reporting was a work in progress, and it was coordinating with the Dubai Health Authority to enlist smaller hospitals in the process.
* With additional reporting by Preeti Kannan