In South Africa, burns are the third most common cause of accidental deaths amongst children under 14 years, exceeded only by motor vehicle accidents and drowning.
In observance of National Burns Awareness Week from 6 – 12 May, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital encourages the public to help defeat the social stigma attached to children living with burns.
Burn injuries happen in seconds but may have a lifelong impact on victims. It is one of the most common and devastating forms of trauma and have the potential to cause death, lifelong scarring, disfigurement, dysfunction and disability – often resulting in prolonged hospitalisation, stigma and rejection.
“According to the World Health Organisation, more than 300 000 people die from fire-related burn injuries annually.
Every year the hospital treats about 3 500 children for burns. Most at risk are children under the age of 6 with about 50% are of these children falling below the age of 2,” said the Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.
“For all these children, once treatment at the hospital is complete, the process of recovery continues at home. These children have fears and worries that can be made worse especially by someone who doesn’t understand their burns or the trauma they have undergone. As communities, it is important that we show stronger support to burn victims and their families,” added the Minister.
Most burn victims are deeply traumatised and struggle to return to society – often being seen and treated differently, which can cause social isolation.
Everyday interaction with friends, participation in activities and plans for the future may feel more challenging after a burn injury.
It is important to prepare burn victim for their reintegration into society by:
- Avoiding the attribution of blame for the accident or asking “what if …”
- Talking with the victim about what they would like to share with others. People will ask questions about the burn and how it happened.
- Suggesting they keep a diary or draw pictures of life in hospital. This may help them later to explain to friends and family what happened.
- Being supportive if your child shares feelings or worries about going back to school.
- Returning to a routine which can help the victim gain a sense of purpose and confidence which is critical for recovery.
- Considering talk to friends, family, neighbours, teachers and classmates before they see the victim. Explaining to them what happened and how the victim has been affected will help create a more comfortable environment for the victim.
- Encouraging the victim to live as normal a life as possible.
- Encouraging the victim to take ownership of their own care – it will give the victim an increased sense of wellbeing and control over their environment.
- Joining a support group for burn survivors.
The majority of burns occur in and around the home and are preventable.
Follow these three simple tips to help keep your child safe from burns:
- Don’t scare children – teach them what to do. Fire is frightening, so instead of scaring children, teach young children how to stay safe and what to do if they find themselves in danger. Many kids will try to hide from a fire, often in a closet or under a bed, but if taught basic fire facts, they would be better able to protect themselves. These life skills may prevent a serious injury or even save a child’s life.
- Never leave children unsupervised. Children are naturally curious and accidents happen easily.
- Practice fire drills at home. By rehearsing different scenarios, you will be less likely to waste precious time trying to figure out what to do.