World directory of poisons centres
Situation as at 6 February 2012
Poisons centres are sources of expertise on the diagnosis and management of poisoning. Most centres provide emergency advice to the general public as well as to health professionals.
The first poisons information centre started in 1949 in the Netherlands, and the 1950s and 1960s, in particular, saw an expansion in the number of poisons centres in industrialized countries in the Americas, Europe and Australasia. This was driven by the rapid increase in the development of new drugs and chemical products after the Second World War, and an associated increase in the incidence of poisoning. Since most health professionals were unfamiliar with the management of poisoning the need arose for a source of readily accessible, expert advice.
In addition to providing emergency advice on the management of poisoning cases, poisons centres compile data on toxic exposures and on toxic substances. They have important roles in chemical safety and public health, which include: characterizing the epidemiology of poisoning to prioritize preventive efforts; advising on the management of the health impacts of chemical incidents; surveillance of chemical exposures, and acting as sentinels for chemical release. Through these roles poisons centres contribute to national capacities for implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005).
The establishment of poisons centres has been recognized as a priority need in successive intergovernmental fora starting with Agenda 21 agreed at UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio Conference) in 1992, and more recently in the Global Plan of Action agreed by the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM1) in 2007 for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).
Over the last decades there has been a gradual increase in the number of countries with at least one poisons centre, however, as of 6 February 2012, only 46% of Member States had a poisons centre, with the most notable gaps being in the African, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific regions.