The global health crisis you’ve never heard of

Monday, October 21, 2013

When we talk about global health challenges, we often cite the ones that receive the most attention or funding. AIDS and malaria come to mind. You probably don’t think about injuries sustained from cooking fires or acid attacks. But the truth is, severe burns are a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in developing countries a crisis afflicting the poor that hardly anyone is talking about.

In resource-strained parts of the world, open fires and kerosene cookstoves are relied upon for cooking, heating and lighting. Add in to the mix overcrowded living conditions, lack of proper fire safety measures, loose clothing worn by women and insufficient supervision of children. Suddenly, it’s not hard to see why someone is severely burned every three seconds in a developing country.

That’s more than 10 million people each year. For those burn survivors around the world who do not have access to basic medical care, burns are left to heal by themselves, creating a permanent tightening of the skin as the burn wound heals. As a result, even a minor burn can restrict one’s ability to walk or cause a working hand to become an unusable fist.

In our 44 years of providing reconstructive surgery for the poor, ReSurge International has seen too many children come to us with debilitating burn injuries with arms fused to their torso or hands unable to hold a pencil because the straw mat they were sleeping on as an infant caught fire or the cookstove they were playing beside suddenly exploded. We’ve seen too many adults who can’t work and provide for their family because a burn injury prevents them from straightening a leg or moving their neck.

These are the cases that Dr. Goran Jovic, the only reconstructive surgeon working in Zambia, sees every day. Jovic, who directs ReSurge’s Surgical Outreach Program in Zambia, accepts patients with all sorts of reconstructive surgical needs, but about 75 percent of the procedures he performs are to correct burn injuries.

Source: Devex (link opens in a new window)

Health Care
public health