Poisoning calls anomaly

Pacific people call the National Poisons Centre in far fewer numbers than expected, new research has found.

University of Otago scientists analysed calls to the Dunedin centre by ethnicity, for a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal yesterday.

They found the percentage of calls by Pacific people to the centre, which offers advice during potential poisoning incidents, was far lower than their percentage of the New Zealand population.

"It is unclear whether this finding represents a low prevalence of exposures in the Pasifika communities, a low utilisation of the centre by the Pasifika communities, or some other combination of factors."

Pacific people make up about 8% of the New Zealand population, but just 2.5% of people who called the centre in 2018 and 2019, the study found.

Children aged 0-5 are the most likely demographic to be at the centre of a potential poisoning incident, and children under 4 constitute 14.3% of the Pacific population.

That suggested that more calls from Pacific parents to the centre could have been expected and meant further research should be carried out into why that was not happening, authors Eeva-Katri Kumpula, Rosalina Richards, Pauline Norris, Vanda Symon and Adam Pomerleau said.

It was possible that Pacific people had a lower prevalence of poisoning or that they experienced milder exposure, the article said.

"This seems unlikely, as rates of poisoning generally increase with increasing levels of deprivation and Pasifika peoples are over-represented in these areas.

"Additionally it might be expected that larger or multi-generational Pasifika households could create additional challenges for storing medications and other chemicals in spaces that are inaccessible to children."

Pacific people may be unaware of the service, may look elsewhere for help, or their generally larger households might be a protective factor with more people at home to watch infants, the article said.

"People may also fear being judged or accused of being careless and ‘allowing’ a child to get injured in this way and experiences of racism within the health system may exacerbate these concerns.

"While centre staff focus on providing non-judgemental advice to all callers, potential callers who have not previously used the service may not be aware of this."

The most common substances at the centre of poisoning incidents were analgesics such as paracetamol, cosmetics, cleaning products and miscellaneous household substances.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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