First aid

06 June 2012

SA's only poison centre moves online

The Poisons Information Centre at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital will move their database of poisons treatment for children and adults onto an online platform.


The Poisons Information Centre at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town has confirmed that development has begun to move the Centre’s valuable database of poisons treatment for children and adults onto an online platform. 

The result of the migration to an internet platform means that this vital information will be more widely and easily accessible to medical practitioners around the country. This will enable medical professionals to find the correct treatment for children and adults with poison injuries much faster than before thus allowing for a quicker diagnosis and ultimately a greater chance of saving lives.


The Children’s Hospital Trust, fundraiser for the Hospital and Paediatric Healthcare in the Western Cape is currently raising the R3.1million required for the redevelopment of the current information system, moving the database from a CD based system to a web-based platform. This project is in line with the Children’s Hospital Trust’s expanded reach to fundraise for projects that impact not only on the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, but also more broadly on paediatric healthcare in the Province as the database is currently distributed to nearly 30 centres in South Africa and other countries including Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Kenya.

Funds received from the Guardians of the Children’s Hospital Trust are currently being allocated towards the Poisons Information Centre database upgrade. Guardians are individual donors, Trusts and Foundations who are committed to donating R5 000 or more per year to the Trust. Their combined contributions to various projects at the Hospital have played a significant role in upgrading the Hospital’s infrastructure, underscoring the power of collective, regular giving. 

Young children most at risk


In developing countries, 5% of injury-related deaths in children are as a result of poisonings. Children aged one to two years old are most at risk of accidental poisoning as they are exploratory in nature but too young to understand the dangers of ingesting potentially poisonous substances. In South Africa, children are most commonly exposed to medicines; however paraffin ingestion is a very common cause of poisoning in children from poorer communities. In adults, poisoning is more often self-inflicted or as a result of industrial accidents.

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is the only institution in South Africa that gathers and collates poisons information at its Poisons Information Centre. There are only two 24 hour emergency poison lines available to the South African public and these are based at the Tygerberg and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospitals. Both hospitals use the database at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital as their source of information.

The main role of the Poisons Information Centre is to collect, collate and distribute information on toxic substances, and also substances which may mistakenly be regarded as poisonous. This is done so that patients with known or suspected poisoning may receive appropriate treatment.

The current information system is out-dated and limits the Centre’s capacity to distribute the information to a wider audience. The resources needed to maintain this essential information are limited despite the growth of the system from holding data on 200 named toxins in 1971 to over 40 000 to date.

Benefits of the new system

An updated system will ensure an improved and more accessible poisons advice service, as well as ensuring that this information is more widely distributed. Not only will medical professionals have faster access to assist a poisoned patient, but this new internet-based service will also provide the general public with information on non-toxic substances encountered on a daily basis. This will ultimately relieve the load on the provincial health service and the Poisons Emergency Line. The redeveloped database will be named AfriTox.

The Poisons database supplies the ingredients, dosages, toxicity, symptoms and treatments of more than 40 000 entities including commercial products, fauna and flora and medicines. Much of this is not available in standard medical textbooks. Currently, as new medical products become available, this database is constantly updated and the discs of information are posted to medics and hospitals at least twice a year to medical centres across Africa. 

Access to this information is vital for both the public and medical professionals treating such patients.


Louise Driver, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Trust says, “What is required is an upgraded, internet-based system, which can be accessed by both medical professionals and the general public on and offline throughout the entire southern African region. This is another project that reflects the Children’s Hospital Trust’s expanded reach to fundraise for projects which broadly impact on paediatric healthcare beyond the doors of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.” 

If you would like to support the Poisons database upgrade project, please contact Philippa Douglas on 021 686 7860 or e-mail for more information.

(Press release, June 2012)

Read more:
First aid for swallowed poisons


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