Burns prevention always better than cure

Collaborative partnership spreads educational burns message

Thursday, August 28 2014

Burns are a major cause of death and disability in South Africa, causing as many as 1 300 childhood deaths every year. According to René Grobler, trauma programme manager at Netcare Milpark Hospital (Level 1 trauma centre), “The most tragic aspect of this statistic is that many of these burn incidents could have been prevented.”

Because many of these incidents are avoidable, Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg has joined forces with emergency medical services provider Netcare 911, the Johnson & Johnson Burn Treatment Centre, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Silverlon and Burnshield to educate over 1 600 primary school learners in the Orange Farm area about the prevention of burns in the home as well as basic first aid treatment of burns.

Burns cause as many as 1 300 childhood deaths in South Africa every year, many of these deaths are preventable. As part of a comprehensive education drive to teach children about prevention strategies, Netcare Milpark Hospital joined forces with emergency medical services provider Netcare 911, the Johnson & Johnson Burn Treatment Centre, Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Silverlon and Burnsheld to visit primary schools in the Orange Farm on Burns Prevention Day.

Most burns in South Africa are caused by heat sources such as hot water or fire. “Children are naturally inquisitive and as soon as they become mobile or start walking, they begin exploring their environment. This can result in them pulling down pots or kettles filled with boiling hot water, touching hot objects such as stovetops and playing with fire, matches or candles. Shack and house fires caused by candles or paraffin lamps left unattended and primus stove explosions, especially in rural areas and informal settlements, are unfortunately also commonplace in South Africa. Electrical burns are also seen fairly often,” explains Grobler.

“That is why we need to make a concerted effort to educate South Africans about how to prevent burns before they happen. Last week, we embarked on a comprehensive education drive to teach children about burns prevention strategies. Simple interventions, such as making a safe candle holder by using an empty two litre cool drink bottle or glass jar and standing it in a tray of sand so that the flame will be contained and extinguished by the sand if the candle falls over, are needed in order to prevent injuries and even deaths,” she asserts.

“As part of this drive, we will also be distributing specially designed pamphlets with colourful visuals, which illustrate how to prevent burns and administer the correct first aid to treat someone who has suffered a burn,” adds Grobler. Most people are able to survive severe burn injuries if they are treated at a specialised facility. In fact, patients admitted to specialised burns facilities have a 94.45% chance of survival.

Netcare Milpark Hospital and emergency medical services provider Netcare 911, visit primary schools in the Orange Farm area to teach children about the prevention of burns and fires in the home.

Netcare Milpark Hospital has a dedicated private burns unit and has treated hundreds of burns patients since the unit opened in August 2008. The burns specialists at this centre of excellence can deal with even the most challenging burns cases, with patients referred for treatment from other hospitals around the country and throughout the African continent. The state-of-the-art burns unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital has eight private isolation rooms, including intensive care unit (ICU) beds and a dedicated burns theatre. Treating patients in isolation is vital in the fight against infection, which can be a major problem in serious burns cases.

“I believe that education is vital to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place. Simple interventions and prevention strategies will go a long way towards decreasing the prevalence of burns in this country,” concludes Grobler.

First aid for burns

The first and most important step is to identify the type of burn suffered, as it will determine the action required. Burns can be classified according to the following categories:
  • First-degree burns (superficial) are the least serious as only the outer layer of skin is impacted. The skin is red, swollen and painful and usually heals with little or no scarring.
  • Second-degree burns (partial thickness) are when the first and second layers of skin have been burned. Blisters may develop and the skin takes on an intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. These burns produce severe pain and swelling.
  • Third-degree burns (full thickness) are the most serious, as all three layers of skin are burned, which causes permanent tissue damage, and destroys hair follicles, blood vessels and nerve endings. Breathing difficulties due to the inhalation of smoke, and circulation problems may accompany these burns.

What to do and what not to do in the event of a burn

  • If you have burned yourself or someone you know has been burned the first thing to do is get away from the heat source immediately. If your clothes have caught fire, remember the golden rule: stop, drop (to the ground) and roll (to try and smother the flames).
  • Be careful of using a blanket or rug to try and extinguish flames. Some fabrics and materials, especially the more synthetic ones, are flammable and may make the situation worse. Depending on the type of fire, using either water or a fire extinguisher is the best option.
  • Depending on the location of the burn, cool the burned area under cold water for up to 20 minutes. Holding the burn under cold running water stops the burn from continuing and reduces the swelling.
  • Do not put ice on the burn as this can cause hypothermia (a drop in body temperature) and impact blood pressure and circulation.
  • You can use a burn care product such as Burnshield Hydrogel to help cool the burn. Do not use butter, egg, toothpaste or any other lotions. These substances may retain heat, aggravate the burn, increase pain, slow healing and cause infection.
  • You can apply a sterile gauze dressing to the burn but do not try and clean it, break any blisters or peel away the skin.

Best strategies for prevention

  • Always take care around candles, paraffin lamps, irons, kettles, stoves, ovens and open fires and make sure you never leave any of these items unattended.
  • Also keep a close eye on children in the kitchen and around open fires and any other situation that could lead to burns.
  • Be careful when drinking or carrying hot drinks, water or food in order to prevent spills.
  • Always run cold water first when drawing a bath, and thereafter add hot water.
  • Check the water temperature before babies and children get into the bath. It should be comfortably warm and not scalding hot.
  • Check that all electrical outlets are in proper working order and make sure that they are all child safe. Also replace any electrical cords that may be damaged.
  • Prevent toddlers and children from sticking their fingers into unused plug points by using safety covers on them.
  • Make sure your home has a fire extinguisher and you know how to use it properly in the event of a fire.
  • Installing smoke alarms will alert you to potential danger.
  • Ensure that all matches and lighters are stored out of children’s reach.


For more information please send an email to or call Netcare 911 on 082 911 in the case of an emergency.


Issued by : Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Beswick or Jillian Penaluna
Telephone : (011) 469 3016
Email :,, or