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News commentary on Need For Government to Support Burns Victims in Nigeria

By Polycarp Auta

Burns continue to be a global challenge. Annually, they cause over 265,000 deaths, as well as the fourth most common type of trauma worldwide, following road traffic accidents, falls and interpersonal violence. Most cases of burns occur in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) like Nigeria.

Non-fatal burns are a leading cause of morbidity, prolonged hospitalisation, disfigurement and disability. They are also a major cause of disability-adjusted-life-years in LMICs.

In high income countries, efforts have been made to reduce the rate of burn cases through prevention activities and treatment modalities. This achievement has been supported by the development of surveillance systems, legislation, social marketing and advocacy. Better resuscitation, burn care, skin grafting, control of infection and rehabilitation has been achieved in high-income countries.

However, these improvements have not been possible in LMICs, including Nigeria. Ignorance and poverty have been strongly linked to this lack of achievement and high incidence rate in Nigeria. Although this type of injury is preventable, advances in prevention and care have not been fully implemented in the country.

A major problem of burns is the high cost of management as well as the discrimination and disability they can cause to patients. In Nigeria particularly, burn care is expensive for citizens. The economic burden of burns cannot be overemphasised.

In 2000 for instance, direct costs for the care of children with burns in the United States of America exceeded 211 million dollars. In Norway, costs for hospital burn management in 2007 exceeded 10.5 million Euros. Although Nigeria’s data is not yet available, it might be astonishing to know how much is spent annually on managing burns in Nigeria when the average cost per day of managing a patient is 44.3 dollars and average length of hospital stay is 3.2 months.

Most studies on burn management in Nigeria and other countries have pointed out the high cost of managing burn patients. Maximising resource utilisation is of upmost importance for a lower-middle-income country like Nigeria. No doubt the cost of managing burns exceeds the Nigerian per capita income and hence requires governmental and non-governmental assistance.

From the foregoing, it is evidently clear that huge resource, expertise and modern equipment is required in managing burns victims in any part of the world. A consultant surgeon with the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Dr Akintunde Akintayo, said the cost of dressing the wounds of a victim is as high as the cost of conducting a major surgery in the theatre.

There is no gainsaying the fact that burns victim, particularly in Nigeria, hardly survive due to paucity of funds required in managing themselves. This is because aside the humongous hospital bill, the cost of consumables is yet another area that gulps huge resources. Burns victims are expected to consume more of protein diets and fruits to aid their healing process.

In order to minimise deaths and improve the survival chances of burns victims in Nigeria, government must take deliberate steps in ameliorating the sufferings of the victims by setting aside special funds for such emergencies. Also, government must be proactive in equipping hospitals with functional gadgets that would support specialists in attending to victims with ease. It is heart-warming to note a tertiary health facility like JUTH do not have a functional burns unit. Government must act now.

In the same vein, government must ensure training and retraining of medical doctors and nurses to become specialists in burns management, as dearth of personnel in the medical unit stalls service delivery and life saving.

However, it is largely safer and better for victims to seek prompt, adequate and qualified medical attention in managing their situation. No matter the shortage of experts, it is still far better to be attended to in a hospital than seek native and local means of managing situation.

I am hale and hearty today because I had prompt medical attention even after sustaining 65.1% first and second degree burns.

Members of the public must also desist from discriminating against burns survivors living in their communities. Rather, encourage them with kind words and make them feel loved. Let them know that their scar is their identity.

(Polycarp is a burns survivor and Senior Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria)

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