Background: Outbreaks of methanol poisoning occur frequently on a global basis, affecting poor and vulnerable populations. Knowledge regarding methanol is limited, likely many cases and even outbreaks go unnoticed, with patients dying unnecessarily. We describe findings from the first three large outbreaks of methanol poisoning where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded, and evaluate the benefits of a possible future collaboration between local health authorities, a Non-Governmental Organisation and international expertise.
Methods: Retrospective study of three major methanol outbreaks in Libya (2013) and Kenya (May and July 2014). Data were collected from MSF field personnel, local health personnel, hospital files, and media reports.
Findings: In Tripoli, Libya, over 1,000 patients were poisoned with a reported case fatality rate of 10% (101/1,066). In Kenya, two outbreaks resulted in approximately 341 and 126 patients, with case fatality rates of 29% (100/341) and 21% (26/126), respectively. MSF launched an emergency team with international experts, medications and equipment, however, the outbreaks were resolving by the time of arrival.
Interpretation: Recognition of an outbreak of methanol poisoning and diagnosis seem to be the most challenging tasks, with significant delay from time of first presentations to public health warnings being issued. In spite of the rapid response from an emergency team, the outbreaks were nearly concluded by the time of arrival. A major impact on the outcome was not seen, but large educational trainings were conducted to increase awareness and knowledge about methanol poisoning. Based on this training, MSF was able to send a local emergency team during the second outbreak, supporting that such an approach could improve outcomes. Basic training, simplified treatment protocols, point-of-care diagnostic tools, and early support when needed, are likely the most important components to impact the consequences of methanol poisoning outbreaks in these challenging contexts.