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180,000 deaths from burns every year – can we talk about it ?

The curse of burns is a big problem. In France, this issue affects thousands of people each year are, yet we rarely talk about it. On a global scale, the phenomenon is most severe in developing countries, where the causes and consequences of burns are often unknown.  

Each year, 180,000 people across the world die from burns, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In Southeast Asia, burns claim more female victims than AIDS or malaria. In France, more than 8,500 people were hospitalized with burns in 2011, according to the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance. This figure includes 219 who died due to their injuries. In comparison, in France in 2014, the flu caused 317 deaths, AIDS was responsible for 359, and sudden infant death syndrome claimed the lives of 157 babies. Information and prevention campaigns are available for all these causes.

We take less interest in burns, perhaps because most of us have already been burned once more or less superficially and have healed. However, even if they are not lethal, burns cause numerous handicaps: they disfigure, they disable, and they can prevent those injured from working and from living a normal life. Nearly 11 million people in the world were treated for burns in 2004, according to WHO, and 95% of them lived in developing countries.

Accidents involving open fires

In developing countries, burns represent the most frequent accident in domestic life, due to inattention or negligence. A child turns over his cup of hot chocolate on himself, an adult pours a glass of alcohol into the barbecue embers, an elderly person doesn’t close their hot water bottle properly, a smoker falls asleep in bed with a lit cigarette… In developing countries, many families do not have access to electricity and domestic equipment – they use open fires for cooking, heating and lighting. It’s these wood fires, these portable kerosene stoves, and these oil lamps, which lead to burns.

Absence of fire safety

In Ethiopia, for example, 80% of accidents take place in the home. They primarily concern women and children, burned by flames, boiling liquids or stove explosions. Cramped housing and overpopulation increase the risks. In developing countries, where there are few fire safety measures, men are victims of chemical and caustic agents or electrocution in their workplace; and seven times more children die of burns than in developed countries.

Women disfigured by acid

However, fire is not the only cause of burns. These injuries can also be caused by boiling liquids and steam, direct contact with a hot object, a blast or explosion, electrocution, and chemical agents. They can also be caused by contact with cold or even the sun. Burns also reveal the violence carried out against children when they are mistreated, and against women. The terrible crime of disfigurement by acid causes misery and suffering in countries from Southeast Asia to the UK. The victims are predominantly female, often attacked by family members seeking vengeance. They suffer permanent scarring and ongoing health issues, and are rejected and ostracized by society. Thus, the fight against burns becomes an issue of human rights.