x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Babywalkers should be banned: doctors

Study finds 'sports cars of the nursery' caused 2,780 emergency cases in Al Ain alone in five years and have also led to infant deaths.

A babywalker, which doctors regard as a threat to children.
A babywalker, which doctors regard as a threat to children.

Doctors are calling for baby walkers to be be banned, calling them a threat to children.

The walkers - wheeled frames somewhat akin to miniature Zimmer frames - are popular with parents in the UAE. But a study by Dr Michal Grivna, a professor of community medicine at UAE University, found that they lead to many casualties and even deaths.

In the five years between 2000 and 2005, there were 2,780 emergency cases involving baby walkers in Al Ain alone.

Almost half (48 per cent) involved a child or a baby colliding with a hard object, while a quarter (23 per cent) had flipped over on a flat surface. One in ten (11 per cent) had fallen down stairs while using a walker.

In one per cent of cases, babies using the walkers had fallen into swimming pools.

Some 42 babies were admitted to hospital, and 11 were left permanently disabled. Three babies died as a result of accidents that happened while they were using baby walkers.

Dr Grivna is now urging families to instead choose a stationary activity play station. He wants baby walkers banned in the UAE in the near future.

It is not even as if they work. "The perception of parents is that it helps in motoring development and that the children can be in a safe place," he said.

"But studies published in the US have found that it delays motoring by three months."

The design of houses in the UAE, with ubiquitous marble floors, also make them particularly unsafe.

"It is incredibly important to have regulations on buildings for child safety," said Dr Grivna.

"Marble floors are very unsafe. Because the head is heavier than the rest of the body, babies fall on their head."

According to the Heath Authority-Abu Dhabi's 2008 annual report, injuries are the leading cause of death in children in the emirate.

Another HAAD study found that most child injuries occurred in the home.

Dr Katharina Purtscher, of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Sigmund Freud Graz mental health hospital in Austria, told this week's trauma conference in Al Ain that such injuries were avoidable.

"Nobody needs a baby walker," she said. "People use it for too long.

The baby walker goes at 5km/h, which is not a normal speed for a child.

"It can lead to head concussions and fractures - it is called the sports car of the nursery."

In Canada, a ban on baby walkers was introduced in 2004, including all advertisements and imports into the country.

Emirati Sarah Obeid's son, Hamid, now two-years-old was injured using a walker last year.

"When my son was little and using it, it was fine," she said. "Then he got older and the wheels would go over his legs. He used to cry and we didn't know what was wrong for a long time, then we knew.

"I don't think any mum should use a baby walker, I heard a lot of bad things, like children going to kitchen and getting burnt, falling over and getting stuck. Just put them in a high chair or something."

Many remain unconvinced of the risks, though.

"Of course at a young age the baby must be supervised, and they should only use it for short periods," said Maryam al Hosany from Abu Dhabi, currently pregnant with her first baby.

Khalia Ayda, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, still puts her nine-month-old nephew Ayda in a walker.

"[Our family] all care a lot for him, and we are always with him," she said. "We make sure that he is safe all the time."

She added that while Ayda is in the baby walker, the doors are shut and he is kept away from sharp objects.

osalem@thenational.ae