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Sunday, 31 January 2016





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Know your poison

NPIC launches poison information website:

Accurate, detailed and well-researched medical information on poisoning is not easy to come by. Getting that information free is even harder.

But things are changing with the launch of the poison information website by the National Poisons Information Center(NPIC) which provides easy access to this information.

Discussing the events leading up to this revolution in poison information in Sri Lanka, Head of the National Toxicology Centre Waruna Gunathilake told the Sunday Observer, "When you have to treat a patient with symptoms of poisoning, time is the most important factor. Only early detection and diagnosis followed immediately by proper treatment can save a patient's life. Any delay especially in the case of a young child can snuff out that life in minutes."

"If you have a family member who accidentally swallows some poisonous seeds from a tree growing in your backyard, or your toddler ingests some of his grandmother's pressure tablets carelessly kept within his reach, most people rush the patient to the nearest health facility. Or seek the help of a native doctor. Or else frantically ring the National Hospital of Sri Lanka and ask for the Toxicology Centre, so you can find a quick home remedy till professional help arrives.


In all these instances, delays in obtaining the right treatment occur frequently due to various reasons. Everyday our Centre receives over 30 calls on a daily basis -day and night by frantic callers wanting to know how to treat a person with poisoning. Poisoning damages tissues when it enters the body through ingestion and also when inhaled as in the case of asbestos dust. The damage could be extensive especially in the case of acid or caustic chemicals "

After health officials at the National Poisons Centre mulled with the problem of finding a proper solution that would offer the public the quickest possible means of detecting and treating poisoning, they launched a website with detailed information on poisoning and poisons in a local context and could be accessed at the click of a button.

"Most Lankans are now hi-tech savvy, and most have their own personal computers, as they are very affordable now. So they can easily access any information on poisoning including updates from research abroad, simply by going into this website. What's more, they can have this facility free of charge unlike in most countries abroad where you have to pay for such services either by way of subscription fees or some other charge", he noted.

The website ( will also be linked to all state hospitals across the country. "We have 50 Base Hospitals, 471 District hospitals, 22 General Hospitals , 22 Teaching Hospitals and 30 Peripheral Hospitals in all countrywide. Our aim is to connect with all of them so that every single State hospital will have access to our website. This will benefit the medical officers and other hospital employees and most importantly the patient to whom doctors can now render a quick solution to their poison related problems", he said.

The tox base has two domains: one for the public which can be accessed without a password and the other for medical professionals . The information is in Sinhala and English and will soon be available in Tamil as well, the authorities said.

"With the Director General Health Services, authorising the registration of all state health institutes under the tox base , these hospitals will be issued a pass code which should be kept secure by appointing a focal point in each health care facility.

"This is because the poison related information on this site is sensitive and only meant for the medical profession." Dr Gunathilake explained. "As it offers clinical information useful in the management of critically ill patients, this domain is restricted to password users who will have to be monitored by the hospital authorities".

Dose calculator

A young girl looks at a pile of pills that was left on a counter

Dr Gunathilake said his Centre was currently developing a Dose Calculator to enable doctors to calculate exactly the dosage given to a poison patient. He explained why its inclusion in the new website was so important. "Let's take a case of a baby rushed to a health facility by frantic parents with poison symptoms. Since there is no dose calculator on our website, to find the exact dose suitable for a young child, it would require the examining physician to refer books for this information. All this takes up time, since every second wasted could bring the patient close to death, especially in young patients.

If there is a dose calculator included in the website, all he has to do is to get upload the information on the website. It is advantageous to the doctor and the patient. All patients irrespective of age and whatever poison they have ingested will benefit" he said.

Also on the cards are various Apps for the medical profession, which the NPIC is currently developing. "Our goal is to popularize IT-based information usage among the public as we are now in a cyberspace world. Having a website is one thing. Unless people are able to access the information in it, it will be of no use to anyone", he added.

Acknowledging the efforts of his talented digital team Sujith Gunewardeneand Dharshan Karunathilleka

who helped set up the website with available resources at minimal cost, he expressed his gratitude to the Director, National Hospital, Dr Anil Jasinghe, Health Minister Dr Rajitha Seneratne and Director Health Services Dr P.G Maheepala, as well as The WHO who collectively helped launch the website. "The result is that we now have a world class website second to none which is also free," he said.


Its plunge into cyberspace, will no doubt keep the NPIC on its toes."We will update information on a daily basis. It will include general information on poison and prevention of poisoning as well as articles, and alerts on worldwide trends every day", Dr Gunathilke said.

Listing other advantages, he said it provided multi-channel access for medical professionals. Citing an example he said , " If a patient is brought to hospital with the poison remnants in a tiny container, doctors can tap the information typing in the trade name, chemical name the chemical class (group) . Immediately a description will flash across the screen along with the important clinical features and how the patient should be treated." He said this facility would be also be important due to emerging poisons such as chemicals, agro chemicals e.g. Abamectin fertilizer.

These come with various trade names. Take glysophate which comes with different trade names. Or DCD in milk powder. The public can find out more information on any kind of food or other item that could be dangerous to their health from our website in future. Even unlabelled food which the public should avoid has been included into the website.


Besides being an informative tool, he noted that the website could also be a learning tool for all. From medical and other health care professionals, to research scientists, undergrads and students.

Deadly visuals

That's not all. Written texts apart, the NPIC is now ready to share its large library of photos, film clips, documentaries and other colourful visuals of plants,( hondala , attana and niyangala ) flowers, seeds like kaneru, that are poisonous to human beings and where they could be found , on the website. "Many of them are commonly found in our own gardens or neighbourhoods.

"The information on this website is comprehensive and evidence-based. We will improve our services to meet the challenges ahead," he said.

Information and advice on poisoning could also be obtained from the 24- hour hotline service of the NPIC - 2686143.


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