International Programme on Chemical Safety

Poisoning Prevention and Management

Poisoning is a significant global public health problem. According to WHO data, in 2004 an estimated 346,000 people died worldwide from unintentional poisoning. Of these deaths, 91% occurred in low- and middle-income countries. In the same year, unintentional poisoning caused the loss of over 7.4 million years of healthy life (disability adjusted life years, DALYs).

Nearly a million people die each year as a result of suicide, and chemicals account for a significant number of these deaths. For example, it is estimated that deliberate ingestion of pesticides causes 370,000 deaths each year. The number of these deaths can be reduced by limiting the availability of, and access to, highly toxic pesticides.

Snake-bite is a largely unrecognized public health problem that presents significant challenges for medical management. While reliable data are hard to obtain, it has been estimated that about 5 million snake-bites occur each year, resulting in up to 2.5 million envenomings, at least 100,000 deaths and around three times as many amputations and other permanent disabilities.

The IPCS programme on Poisoning Prevention and Management seeks to build capacity in countries to deal with these problems. An important area of activity is promoting the establishment and strengthening of poisons centres - work carried out under the IPCS INTOX Programme. A world directory of poisons centres (YellowTox) is maintained. Other activities include the provision of information on chemicals, the provision of information management tools, and the development of internationally peer-reviewed guidelines concerning the prevention and clinical management of poisoning.