Household hazards - Bleach the culprit in 80% of cases of kids ingesting poisonous substances in Ja yearly
At least 200 children are rushed to the Bustamante Hospital for Children each year with symptoms of poisoning, with household chemicals, mainly bleach, being the leading poison agent.
This has caused local health professionals to renew calls for tighter restrictions on the sale of such products.
Household chemicals, including bleach, kerosene oil, and floor polish, can be purchased from retail outlets across the island for small sums, and many Jamaicans are careless with how they store and use these products.
This is cause for concern for Sherika Whitelocke-Ballingsingh, public health inspector and head of the Caribbean Poison Information Network (CARPIN), who has warned that the practice is dangerous, especially in households with curious and probing toddlers.
"It is underestimated and under reported. Over the last 10 years the reports that we have been getting from the Ministry of Health is that 80 per cent of our confirmed cases each year are for bleach poisoning, and it is for children from zero to five years old," Whitelocke-Ballingsingh told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The major issue is that the chemical retail industry has not been regularised. There is no standard way for packaging, labelling and distribution of chemicals in Jamaica. Anyone going into a chemical shop can just take a container and they can just buy their bleach, disinfectants and liquid soap.
"Most times the children will accidentally drink the bleach for juice, or water, because of the container that the bleach is purchased or stored in," added Whitelocke-Ballingsingh.
She argued that the problem can be easily curtailed by introducing polices to ensure that household chemicals are sold in properly labelled containers.
Last week, Dr Marsha James, ear, nose and throat consultant at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, argued that public education resulted in a 33 per cent dip in the number of children poisoned by household chemicals in 2014.
But James lamented that since then the number has continued to rise.
She bemoaned the adverse effects such poisoning can have on children, even in the latter years of their lives.
James listed, among the other chemicals being ingested by children, caustic soda, paint thinners, hair relaxers, toilet bowl cleaners, detergents and degreasers.
"Alkaline substances like caustic soda cause worse injuries and are associated with longer hospital stays and long-term complications such as difficulty swallowing due to narrowing of the throat and gullet because of burns," said James.
"This will require repeated surgical procedures, often six to eight procedures for the year. It can also cause injury to the voice box and windpipe, resulting in breathing difficulties.
"Severe cases may require placement of a tube in the windpipe to help breathing. Volatile agents such as kerosene can cause injury to lungs," added James.
The healthcare professionals are urging parents to prevent toddlers from vomiting after ingesting hazardous chemicals, as vomiting could further complicate the situation. Instead, they recommend that the child be rushed to the nearest hospital so that the chemical can be flushed from their system.
CARPIN is now doing detailed research on the issue of poisoning in Jamaica.