Phoenix Burns Project

PBP Forum on Burns Issues
  October 28, 2006

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 Africans.

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 support”.

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 burns survivors.

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 environment.”