In a prospective study on 178 cases of accidental home poisoning admitted to the main children's hospital in Riyadh poisoning was found to account for 5.6% of the total annual admissions--greater than any other developing country and approaching Western proportions. The commonest ages were between 1 and 5 years. Drugs accounted for 52% of cases and household products for 46%. This picture also differs from the pattern of poisoning in developing countries and is more akin to that of industrialised countries. The most important factors in aetiology, besides the age of the patient and the underprivileged social class, were the abundance of drugs and household chemicals in the Saudi home, none of them in child proof containers; inappropriate storage; and lack of supervision of children. Cultural factors also contributed. The frequency of poisoning in childhood may be decreased in the long run by improved housing, socioeconomic status, and education. The place and methods of health education, also a long term objective, is discussed. For immediate primary prevention two important legislative measures are proposed: (1) provision of childproof containers of drugs and other chemicals used in the home and (2) banning of over the counter sales of drugs. For more accurate epidemiological data collection, and thereby better preventative planning, a national register of accidental poisoning and other accidents is recommended. Poison information centres are also deemed necessary.
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