1 A retrospective analysis to evaluate the epidemiology of poisoning by household chemicals based on admissions at Zimbabwe's six main urban hospitals over a 10-year period (1980-1989) was performed.
2 A total of 1192 household chemicals poisoning cases were recorded, and this constituted 20% of all poisoning cases (6018) recorded during the study period.
3 The 0-5 year age group constituted the majority of cases (61.3%), then the 16-25 and 26-30 year age groups accounting for 11 % and 5.2% respectively.
4 The sex distribution showed that 43.7% were females.
5 Most incidences were accidental (66.8%). Suicides and/or parasuicides accounted for 19%.
6 Mortality was recorded at 13% and most of the deaths were suicides.
7 Paraffin (Kerosene) was the most common poisoning agent accounting for 68% of the cases. This was followed by rat poisons (5.8%), bleaches (5.1 %) and caustic soda (3.3%).
8 The incidence of poisoning with household chemicals could be reduced by health education directed to parents emphasising the importance of safe storage of paraffin and other household chemicals, and by legislation to stop retailers selling paraffin for domestic use in second-hand containers.