Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, Dr. Marsha James.

The Bustamante Hospital for Children, in partnership with the Southeast Regional Health Authority (SERHA), will be launching its inaugural Child Safety public education campaign in May as part of activities to mark Child Month.

This is to sensitise parents and caregivers about critical interventions that should be implemented to safeguard children three to 17 years of age against the ingestion of corrosive substances and to prevent other serious injuries.

In 2019, the total number of cases of ingestion of caustic agents and falls was 876. This increased to 1,164 in 2020 and further increased in 2021 to 1,338.

The hospital’s Social Work Department recorded 142 cases of head injuries/falls in 2019. This increased to 225 in 2020, 229 in 2021, and there have been 93 cases since the start of 2022.

Cases of ingestion of corrosive substances were 172 (2019), 190 (2020) 159 (2021) and 43 since the beginning of 2022.

For burns, there were 121 cases in 2019, 145 in 2020, 127 in 2021 and 27 since the start of 2022.

The campaign will feature sensitisation sessions, a poster design competition, among other activities, aimed at increasing child-safety awareness. There will be ongoing activities throughout the month and beyond.

Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at the institution, Dr. Marsha James, tells JIS News that the evidence suggests there has been a steady increase in the ingestion of corrosive substances, and injuries sustained from falls and burns among children.

“The programme is an initiative of the Social Work Department and it came about because of the increase in the number of children that were presenting to the hospital from falls and ingestion of caustic substances,” she says.

Caustic ingestion will present to the ENT Department with burns to the lips, drooling, bleeding from the mouth, as well as difficulty breathing at times.

“The most corrosive agent [we have seen] is caustic soda, which is used to clean bathrooms and toilets, and that is a very alkaline agent that causes severe burns and these burns progress over time. Affected children can remain in hospital for over seven to 10 days and these children can develop structuring of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract at a later stage as a complication of that ingestion,” she explains.

Some commonly ingested substances are caustic soda and retail bleach. These are distributed in wholesale stores in bottles.

Dr. James notes that there have also been cases of ingestion of pesticides, such as Gramoxone, which she warns, can be fatal.

She notes that partnerships with retailers and packagers of these substances are being considered to make access by children more difficult.

Meanwhile, Dr. James says injuries caused from falls can have long-term impact on the development of children.

Some patients who have fractures may have difficulties with growth of the affected limb, and patients who have head injuries may have long-term complications of memory loss. They may also have bleeding on the brain, which can affect brain development going forward.

Social Worker at the hospital, Laurrain Spence, says through the initiative, the Social Work Department is seeking to increase the awareness of parents and caregivers about the importance of proper supervision, and establishing a safe environment for children.

“Since the onset of the (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been a steady increase, and we believe in social work it is necessary to provide information to parents and guardians,” she says.

Ms. Spence notes that lack of supervision is the number-one factor in the occurrence of these incidents, and that the Department is seeking to empower parents and caregivers with essential knowledge to protect children.

One of the safety measures that parents and caregivers can implement to prevent ingestion of toxic substances and serious injuries among children is to lock away all chemical substances in the home, including bleach, kerosene oil, caustic soda, toilet bowel cleaner, ammonia acid, peroxide, paint thinner, acetone, and sanitisers.

These substances should not be stored in drink containers, or in the same areas where food, water and juices are kept.

Children should be educated on the functions of medications. They should not be told that these are sweets.

Children should not be left unattended, particularly in those areas of the home where the risk of falls are high, such as on the bed, chair, stairway, doorway, balcony, window, and tabletops.

Caregivers are reminded that monitoring children at play is also important and that they should be discouraged from practising dangerous stunts they may have seen on entertainment programmes.

The kitchen can be a potentially harmful environment for children where proper safety precautions are not strictly observed.

Caregivers should ensure that the handles of pots and pans are placed out of the reach of children at all times. At no time should children be allowed near a hot stove or open flame. Matches and lighters should also be kept out of the reach of children.

Kettles, irons and steamers should be closely monitored. Children should never use these.

To prevent spills, guardians are reminded to handle hot substances – tea, porridge, soup and hot water – with care in the presence of children. These should not be left unattended around young children.

Children should be prevented from playing with electrical appliances or electric sockets and cords. To that end, parents/guardians are being encouraged to instal safety devices on all electrical ports throughout the home.

Child Month 2022 is being observed under the theme ‘Listen Up: Children’s Voices Matter’.

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