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February 2017

| VOICES Bi-Monthly Magazine of the University of Technology, Jamaica


ccidental poisoning for children has been a decade long public

health issue in Jamaica. Bleach being the main causative agent

and a product that is used daily in households makes it a likely

feature in the environment of a child (0-5years). The repeated efforts by

the Ministry of Health and CARPIN on advising parents and guardians

to put chemicals out of the reach of children stop from storing bleach

and other household cleaning chemicals in juice bottles has become a

familiar tune in the ears of many Jamaicans. But these incidents have not

stopped the behavior of parents and guardians. What would be a national

approach o accidental poisoning for children in Jamaica?

Epidemiological transition of childhood poisoning

The trend for accidental poisoning for children 0-5 years has shifted over

the past 30 years from kerosene, pesticide, pharmaceutical to

bleach being the major causative agent. There has not been

any analysis on the reason for the change but inference can

be made to change in quality of life and organizational roles.

The transition of kerosene oil for lighting to electric light in

the homes of most Jamaicans has lessen the availability

of kerosene in most homes, the enforcement of

the Pesticides Act and consistent island-wide

programmes by the Pesticides Control Authority

of Jamaica could be one of the factors for the

shift in pesticide poisoning, the pharmaceutical

industry has being playing their role in

educating parents about medication use

and storage. However the use of childproof

packages to retail medication would help to

lessen the present events with medicinal

poisoning in children.

The question that policymakers and key stakeholders should be asking

and seeking to answer is: What organized approached and policy can be

put in place to tackle the present issues with bleach poisoning by children

in Jamaica?

Public education has been the main or only programme with no structured

approach to the present situation.

Cultural practices

The buying of bleach in drums by chemical retailers and the sale of bleach

in bottles similar to that of syrup, ketchup and sodas are some of the

cultural practices for the distribution of bleach in Jamaica. This practice

has become such a norm that even in established organization it is the

common practice of janitorial or housekeeping staff to collect cleaning

agents in varied bottles which include soda bottles to carry out their daily

duties. There is no distinct difference in design and labeling for these

containers and sometimes no labels or inadequate information being


Adults are often tricked in to mis-identity of bleach with water because of

similar packaging and storage in a food area. What then can we expect

from children?

The ability of children to open these bottles is undermined, while there is

no specific restriction to the containers such as child proof, and no specific

design to make the containers unattractive. What then do we expect these

little adventurous children to do when they pounce upon these chemicals?

Imagine for a while that you are an adventurous and explorative child

with no understanding of differentiating a substance being place in a

container that you can only associate with food.


What would be your exploring approach?


Simple to take the content of the container and put it in your

mouth for the purpose of tasting.

Regulating Chemicals retailers

The contradiction of telling parents to desist from using

food look- alike containers, to store chemicals and

allowing chemical retailers to distribute and accept

the same containers for chemical resale has proven

to be harmful to our children. So where do we go

from here?

Regulating chemical retailers can help in changing

the behavior of Jamaicans from repackaging

household cleaning chemical in food look alike bottles (juice or drink

bottles), to purchasing chemicals in standards containers which does

not endanger the health of anyone especially our children. Household

cleaning agents that are manufactured in Jamaica should follow a

standard for packaging, labeling and distribution. This should not be left

up to the seller or buyer to determine, but should be stipulated by the

relevant regulating authority through legislations and policies to protect

the lives of our children. Regulating chemicals can be an intervention to

poison prevention in Jamaica.

Regulating chemical retailers of household

cleaning agents can help to lessen accidental

poisoning in Jamaica

By Sherika Whitelocke-Ballingsingh, Public Health Inspector

PGCT. Medical Toxicology, MPHI

The Caribbean Poison Information Network (CARPIN), UTech, Jamaica

1-888-POISONS (764-7667)