Know your poison
NPIC launches poison information website:
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.
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 (www.toxbaselanka.info) 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".
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.
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.
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.