AfriTox: Winner 2.2



The health innovator

Clare Roberts, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town

The innovation

AfriTox is a digital and online database of toxins and toxic substances, providing easy access to potentially life-saving knowledge in emergencies.

Winner of the Transforming the System From the Inside Out Award at the 2014 Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Summit

The action

Children drink paraffin. Toddlers eat pest poison. Hikers pick the wrong mushrooms and put them into stews. It happens by mistake, but far too often. And if quick and effective action is not taken, it can cost someone a life.

That’s the key: quick and effective action. For the medical practitioner, the challenge is to identify the toxin, often from the sketchiest of clues, and apply the correct treatment in time. Clearly, knowledge is the primary antidote. But this knowledge hasn’t always been quick or easy enough to access.

For years, clinicians in South Africa have relied upon two emergency poison information lines, based at Tygerberg Hospital and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. Dr Clare Roberts, Director of the Poison Information Centre at Red Cross, recalls the “chaotic” system of index cards and textbooks that served as the original source of knowledge.

“It was as if we were living in the Dark Ages,” she says. But, now, a light switch has been flipped with the development of an online version of the database, called AfriTox.

Compiled as part of a research project in 1984, the regularly updated database has traditionally been sent on CD, by post, to medics and hospitals in South Africa and five other African countries. It’s one of only four poison databases worldwide, in English, and the only one that’s unique to Africa. This is important because local knowledge counts – South Africans are usually poisoned by South African products and plants, or spiders and snakes.

From an original 200 toxins, AfriTox has grown to more than 40 000. It’s provided free to public health facilities and for an annual subscription fee to registered practitioners. It can be accessed anywhere with a computer, smartphone or tablet, plus a downloadable version is available for areas with intermittent internet access.

The database avoids the “tedious process” of trying to get through to a poison centre and calling repeatedly for a complex case, says Dr Roberts. But it also saves the greater system money and time. Roberts points to an authoritative US study showing that each dollar spent on a Poison Information Centre

(PIC) avoided $14 being spent elsewhere in the healthcare system. That’s a 1 400% return on investment in healthcare.

It’s also a massive time-saver. Doctors can use AfriTox to identify harmful substances in a product that may hold no information other than the brand name. They can then determine whether the dose is dangerous and follow more than 600 treatment protocols.

“More poisoned people are saved by fast, appropriate treatment,” says Roberts. “Hospital stays are shortened and, most importantly, harmful, unnecessary treatments are avoided.” So AfriTox has a place in the smallest public clinic and the largest private hospital, says Roberts. It saves time, it saves money and, in a world where curiosity and misadventure can lead children into danger, it holds the power to save lives.

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The lesson learned

Innovation is just the beginning. Doctors and other healthcare workers need to sharpen their business skills and learn to “talk up” what they are doing. Why? To create a broader awareness of the features and practical benefits of their innovations.

ALL THE WINNING INNOVATIONS IN HEALTHCARE: Nominations poured in. There were so many innovators to consider and commend. But, at the close of the first Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Summit (IHIS) in Cape Town 2014, a winner (or two) was finally chosen from the finalists in each of the five award categories. Meet the prize-winning people and projects here… Collaborative Reimagining Award: → Operation Sakuma Sakhe  → Electronic Continuity Of Care Record (eCCR) / Transforming the System from the Inside Out Award: → Parents Guidance Centre Reakgona  → AfriTox / Minding the Gap Award: → Umthombo Youth Development Foundation /Inclusive Technology Award: → Praekelt Foundation / Pioneering Approaches Award: → Kheth’Impilo

Adapted from the 2014 Health Innovator’s Review, compiled by Inclusive Healthcare Innovation, a joint initiative between the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business, and the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences.

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