Phoenix Burns Project

PBP Forum on Prevention of Burn Injuries in Children
  June 23, 2007

The first Phoenix Forum of 2007 brought together stakeholders from across the safety and burns environment, at the Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town on June 23, to discuss the risks of burn injuries and prevention strategies. Speakers at the well-attended event stressed that public awareness on burns issues must be raised.

Dr Ashley van Niekerk, a specialist in paediatric burn injuries from the Medical Research Council, told the forum that burn injuries occur mostly in low income settings and typically in and around the home. While scald injuries from hot liquids account for 70% of burn injuries, the 20% of injuries from open flames are more severe and produce higher rates of fatalities.

Noting that many paedriatic burn injuries occur in single-parent households, he called for greater access to child-care facilities.

He stressed the need for burn prevention to be included in school curricula. He also called for awareness campaigns addressed especially at communities at risk of burns, and on members of such communities to "take action". Likewise, policy makers and decision makers need to be educated and lobbied on burns issues.

Teri Kruger of the Paraffin Safety Association showed the meeting a short film of the interior of a shack catching fire after a parrafin stove overturned. Within just over a minute, the shack was completetly engulfed in flames. If such a fire breaks out, "get out quickly," she advised.

Another common danger is the accidental consumption of paraffin, Kruger said, adding that about 80000 children ingest paraffin every year. Although paraffin is dangerous, she said, it cannot be eradicated for several reasons, including affordability and habits, nor will electricity or alternative fuels "be accessed by all to eliminate paraffin usage."

While paraffin is the most affordable, accessible and widely used energy, there lacks consumer focus in the system of fuel delivery and package design," Kruger said. She said the hazards of paraffin should be reduced through knowledge and education, and through safer appliances and packaging.

Dr Attila Szabo, project manager of the Khayelitsha Gel Fuel Programme, said that more than 2500 people die in 40000 fires a year in South Africa, costing the country an annual R100 billion.

Dr Szabo told the meeting that he would like to see paraffin replaced by ethanol gel fuel as a safer alternative. Gel fuels do not spill and run and thereby cause fires, cannot be ingested, and emit no toxic fumes, he said.

He also pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol encouraged the use of alternative fuels - including ethanol gel fuel whose source is renewable - for a cleaner environment.

His organisation wants to replace paraffin appliances in every household with those that use gel fuel. He did, however, acknowledge that the higher price of gel fuels presents an obstacle in this aim.

Van Niekerk called for the "enforcement of specifications for portable paraffin stoves" and access to electrification in a bid to reduce open flame burn injuries.

Dr Peter Martinez, president of the Phoenix Burns Project, told a national newspaper that all stakeholders in burn issues have a role to play in burn prevention, and hoped that discussion forums such as the Phoenix Forum will help towards developing a joint strategy in finding solutions to the various challenges in the field.