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Become a skin transplant donor this national burn awareness week



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Starting on Friday, it is National Burn Awareness Week (May 6-12) which serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the effects that burn wounds have, especially on children.

“As children’s skin is still developing, they have thinner skin than adults, which can result in more serious injuries from a burn or scald,” said Stella de Kock, managing director of TELL (Transplant Education for Living Legacies).

“Their skin also burns at lower temperatures, more deeply; thus, making them susceptible to harsher burns with long-term effects.

“Sub-Saharan countries carry an extraordinary burden of burn injuries among children. It is estimated that between 300 000 and 17.5 million children under five years sustain burn injuries annually and that fire-related burns are the second-largest external cause of death in the region. There is overwhelming evidence that these injuries are largely environmentally conditioned and therefore preventable,” De Kock said.

She gave the following top tips for preventing burns and scalds:

– Create a child-safe area at home.

– Keep hot objects out of children’s reach.

– Teach older children how to cook safely.

– Check bathwater temperature.

– Watch children around fireplaces.

– Don’t hold your child while working in the kitchen.

She said in South Africa, burns are the third most common cause of accidental deaths among children under 14 years, exceeded only by motor vehicle accidents and drowning.

“Nearly 230 children die from burns in South Africa every year. These deaths occur due to the severity of the burns, but more so because there are no effective, affordable synthetic treatment options available to patients.

“There are 23 burn units in SA of which all can generally render acute emergency care, with a limited number rendering comprehensive care,” she said.

“Two of the leading units in South Africa are situated at the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital.”

She said every year the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital treats around 3 500 children for burns, about 1 300 of these cases are severe burns. Ninety-eight percent of children treated for burns are from disadvantaged communities.

“Skin grafts are the gold standard in treating burn wounds, to minimise scarring and promote healing. Small children in particular need skin grafts as a small burn or scald can cover most of their bodies.

“The main function of the skin is to retain moisture, regulate body temperature, and protect the body from bacteria and other harmful elements,” De Kock said.

“Burn wounds must be dressed to prevent dehydration and infection. By applying donor skin (Allograft) to burn wounds, the body recognises the skin as human tissue and sees it as the patient’s own and accepts it. A skin allograft relieves pain and controls infection more effectively than a collagen dressing.

“The skin allograft can be harvested from the torso, hips, thighs and upper calves of the deceased donor.”

She said the donor skin can be left on the wound for up to two weeks without having to redress the wound during this time, which enables the body to recover. The donor skin dries out after two weeks, making it easy to remove from causing future damage or pain.

“Availability of allograft and risk of infection are the two main constraints in its regular use. Human skin allograft is an effective method of burn wound coverage and it cannot be replaced by synthetic skin substitutes at present.

“Have the conversation about organ and tissue donation with your loved ones today, so when the time comes, they will be aware of your wishes and be able to save a child’s life one day. You can save up to eight people’s lives with organ donation and improve the lives of up to 50 people with tissue donation. Make it known that you wish to be an organ and tissue donor one day.

She said they raise awareness for organ and tissue (skin) donation and are always looking for funds for various projects such as Zanes (unicorn teddies) for kids and scrub caps for medical personnel that attend their talks.

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