UAE bans sale of rare-earth magnet brand over safety fears for children

Ministry issued a recall of magnetic balls called nanodots – and urged families to hand in or throw away the toys

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The UAE has banned the sale of small magnetic balls – popularly known as rare-earth magnets – because of safety concerns.

The Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology issued a recall of magnetic balls called nanodots because they pose "a hazard to health and safety when ingested by children".

The ministry also instructed all retail outlets to withdraw the Nandots magnetic balls product from their shelves.

The move, on April 28, came after health authorities reported dozens of hospital and ICU admissions of young children who have accidentally swallowed the magnets.

We started with four cases in 2016 and in 2019 we had 28 cases. More than 70 per cent required surgical intervention. At times a section of the bowel have to be removed

Sheikh Khalifa Medical City reported more than 60 cases since 2016.

The majority of the cases involve children aged between one and six, the majority of whom have required surgery.

In one case, a child developed multiple complications after swallowing 30 magnets.

“Children who ingest them can have obstruction, perforation and ulceration in the stomach and intestines,” Dr Nafea Alyasi, paediatric gastroenterology fellow at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said.

“At times a section of the bowel have to be removed.”

Dr Alyasi and his team at SKMC have been collecting evidence in recent years to push for the complete ban on the sale of rare-earth magnets in the UAE.

The magnetic balls product by Nanodots that was recalled by the ministry. Courtesy Manaa

"The numbers will gradually begin to decline after the ban. Maybe not immediately but probably over the next twelve months," Dr Alyasi said.

He said doctors had become increasingly concerned after seeing a sharp increase in cases recently.

"We started with four cases in 2016 and in 2019 we had 28 cases. More than 70 per cent of them required surgical intervention," Dr Alyasi said.

However, he does not blame the parents, insisting the problem lied with a "lack of awareness".

“I am a parent and I have kids and I know how easy it is for them to pick up something and swallow. I wouldn’t say it was negligence unless I see it happening several times with the same child and that is very rare,” he said.

HRHGMC Rare-earth Magnets

“Parents should be aware that these magnets are very dangerous and should not be in a household where young children are around.”

Although rare-earth magnets are banned in many countries because of the risks posed to children, some governments have allowed shops to sell them again.

In 2018, a US federal judge overturned a 2012 ban on the sale of the toy, making it legal to sell them again in a lockable box with a warning not to allow children or animals to play with them unsupervised.

Coins, buttons, batteries and magnets are the most common foreign objects swallowed by children.

“What’s upsetting is these [cases] are all preventable,” said Dr David Rawat, consultant gastroenterologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) in Abu Dhabi.

“The magnets may look innocent but are lethal and have five times the magnetic power of an average magnet.”

There have been two deaths reported in the UAE because of swallowing magnets and, in March this year, doctors managed to save the life of a six-year-old girl after she swallowed 11 magnetic beads, which damaged the walls of her intestine.

Althea Faye Barabacina ate the items a week before symptoms began to manifest.

She started to vomit and feel severe abdominal pain and appeared pale and dehydrated before being rushed to Medeor Hospital, where the doctors initially diagnosed an intestinal infection.