Poisoning is a significant global public health problem. WHO estimates that, in 2016, unintentional poisoning caused 106 683 deaths and the loss of 6.3 million years of healthy life (disability-adjusted life years). In many countries, poisoning is one of the main causes of emergency attendance at hospitals. Poisoning is a time-dependent emergency and, like infectious diseases, may require a specialist for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Poison centres are established in many countries as sources of specialized expertise to address the fact that health professionals could not be expected to know about the toxicity of every chemical substance and product and also to provide a focus for toxicological research. Poisons Centres have an important role in implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005) which require that countries have the capacity for surveillance, detection and response to public health events caused by chemicals. Much of this capacity can be provided by a well-resourced poisons centre.
The Guidelines for establishing a poison centre provides information on the services that may be offered by a poison centre as well as detailed practical guidance on planning and operations.
This publication is an update of the Guidelines for Poisons Control, published by WHO in 1997. The update addresses the renewed emphasis on poisons centres given the implementation of the IHR (2005) as well as developments in technology and experience in poisons centre operations since 1997.