The Red Cross Children's Hospital Poisons Information Telephone Service began in 1971, and was situated in the hospital's Outpatient Department where doctors used a card index system and text books to answer calls about poisoning.
The development of the Poisons Information System, now AfriTox®, began in 1981 when Prof H de V Heese of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health of the University of Cape Town started a research project to see if it was possible to make all the information necessary for treating a poisoning case accessible on a computer.
Professor Mike Mann developed a program to manage poisons data and from 1984 onwards this computerised system was used in the Emergency Room at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. The Poisons Information Centre was established in 1984 to maintain the poisons information database, and in 1987 distribution of this database to other hospitals began. Over the years the volume of knowledge about toxic substances and methods of treatment has grown exponentially. The number of commercial products to which people may be exposed has also increased. Since 1984, the database has developed from a system holding information on 200 toxins to the current database with data on over 40 000 substances.
The system was repeatedly upgraded as new software became available. Distribution of the database to treatment sites countrywide was achieved by posting CDs via registered mail, but over time this method became cumbersome.
In 2004 the Poisons Information Centre asked the Children's Hospital Trust to raise funds to make the poisons information database accessible on a secure site on the Internet. The Microsoft partner company Airborne Consulting undertook to do the project at below market price as a philanthropic gesture. The Children's Hospital Trust raised R3.2 million in charitable donations to allow Airborne (now EOH Microsoft Coastal) to complete the work, and the redeveloped poisons information database has been branded as AfriTox®.