People from every social level are at risk of falling victim to
serious burns injuries. Among the thousands of South Africans every year who
require extensive medical treatment after sustaining burns injuries has been
one of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren.
The inaugural round-table discussion of the
Phoenix Burns Project on burns issues, held on October 28, 2006 in
Observatory in Cape Town, heard that the vast majority of those at risk or
affected by burns injuries, physically and socially, are poor South
The discussion focused specifically on
paediatric burns issues.
The multi-disciplinary panel included medical
experts, therapists and volunteers.
Dr Roux Martinez of the PBP praised the burns
unit of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town and its
volunteers for their work, but said there were areas of concern, especially
in terms of medical follow-up and preparing burns survivors “to face
the outside world”.
Moreover, she said, the public must be made
aware “that there are these people and they need our
Michèle Twomey, a public health
specialist and member of the PBP, addressed the meeting on prevention
strategies. These must involve public awareness campaigns using an
innovative multi-media approach, including alternative media such as the
dissemination of prevention messages on the back of taxis. Ms Twomey said
that the public awareness campaigns on HIV/Aids provided a good example of
how such campaigns can be effective.
Prevention also required “environmental
modifications and product redesign”, Ms Twomey said. Here government
on all levels had a responsibility to enforce safety measures.
For example, many fires are caused by unsafe
paraffin stoves. Safe designs of such stoves already exist. Their use should
be promoted, subsidised, and regulated, and hazardous appliances be banned.
Dr Jenny Thomas, a paediatric anaesthetist at
the Red Cross Children's Hospital, proposed that a “Year of Burns
Survivors” be declared to raise awareness on burns
prevention—fire, chemical and electrical—and the physical and
social effects of burns.
Ms Twomey pointed out that severe burns
survivors often find it very difficult to find employment because of their
physical appearance or injuries, yet are disqualified from receiving
disability grants. She said the burns care community should lobby government
on this issue.
Sister Beverley Bates, representing the Burns
Society of South Africa, stressed the need to collect detailed statistics on
severe burn injuries.
“At present no reliable data
exists,” she said.
The representatives pledged to cooperate in a
concerted effort to address various pressing issues in the areas of burns
awareness and prevention, and in the physical and social rehabilitation of
The participants said they were “hugely
excited” about the founding of the Phoenix Burns Project, which they
said proposes to fill much-needed gaps in serving burns survivors in a
beneficial and holistic way.
Dr Martinez said the PBP hopes to eventually
establish a rehabilitation centre to serve burns survivors after they have
been released from hospital. The PBP also plans to create public awareness
on prevention and the social integration of burns survivors.
“In trying to accomplish this, we commit
ourselves to work closely with relevant burns organisations, professionals
and volunteers,” said Dr Martinez. The PBP has already spent a year on
consulting with specialists in the area of burns.
“We are currently developing our
operational experience and are validating methodologies,” she said.
“Once that process is completed we will
be looking for volunteers and further engagement with academics and the NGO