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Hot Water Burns Survivor Calls For Better Care For Children

PAINFULLY-bandaged little bundles lie in rows, shocked eyes peering past gauze-covered faces at the alien hospital environment.
Drips in arms and beeping monitors, the babies are afraid.
Gone is the family home, the cheerful chatter of siblings, the warmth of the imbawula. And all because of one careless moment.
A tipped pot of boiling rice. A falling kettle of tea. An unsupervised tin bath where the cold water had not yet been added.
Now they feel sore, alone, strange.
The dull lino floors. A television endlessly on adult soapies. Women in dark blue dresses with militaristic maroon epaulettes, telling them what to do.
Some infants have their mothers by their bedsides but they, too, look afraid. Or guilty. Or sad. Or just plain tired.
Cockroaches scuttle along the skirting boards. The curtains are dusty.
Hospital should be avoided at all costs. Bara. Jo'burg Gen, Leratong. Jubilee. All of them.

Each week some 14 to 20 toddlers lie in the paediatric burns ward at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. It can take up to 26 children.
The majority are burned by hot liquid on hands, arms, faces. Some are burned on the back or their legs. Some are burned all over - or the only remaining good skin looks burned as it is "harvested" in raw red rectangular strips to repair the rest.
This image is repeated, hospital by hospital, across the country. And winter has but barely begun.
Jo'burg and Pretoria's main government hospitals have at least 31 infants with hot water burns today.
We drink more hot drinks in winter and think we can balance a mug of coffee in one hand and a baby with the other.
We answer the phone as the bath is running, forgetting the curious already-undressed toddler in the bathroom.
We go to answer the door as that delicious-smelling saucepan of oxtail soup is bubbling and our three year old reaches up, just to see what's cooking.
There is no such thing as an accident. There's negligence. Stupidity. Exhaustion. Drunkenness. Mistakes.
Mistakes that last a lifetime - or even take a life. Some parents should be charged for criminally-failing their children. Some should have their children removed. Some should be given concrete solutions.
But the problem should not be ignored.
There are many more injuries than just those caused by hot liquids but across the world, rich, poor, black, white, educated, illiterate, the children aged one year to four years old are most at risk of burns because their parents haven't thought.
They haven't thought "what if..?" They haven't thought to prevent injuries that are so very preventable.

Hospitals 28th May 2011

Leratong: Four hot water burns
2yr 1m, burned on left leg; 11m burned on forearm and hand; 1y4m burned on his back; 5yrs burned on both lower arms.
Recently a one year old baby went in with hot water burns and she died. Hot water can kill.
Tembisa: Ten tinies with hot water burns (the youngest is 7 months old).
In the adult ward, one man is in hospital as his daughter threw hot water over him, in an argument about money.

Charlotte Maxeke: Four hot water burns, ranging in age from ten months to six years.
Bara: Thirteen hot water burns:

George Mukhari: 33 year old female, whose partner threw hot water on her, immuno-compromised, won't heal, has been there since before May 2010. Est. cost to the health care system of this one patient: R400,000

Steve Biko: no hot water burns

For further information, contact Londeka Ngidi*, hot water burns survivor and medical intern at Children of Fire.
*burned as a toddler on scalp, face, arm and hoping to be a doctor in the future

This material is Copyright The Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust and/or Children of Fire , 1998-2020.
Distribution or re-transmission of this material, excluding the Schools' Guide, is expressly forbidden without prior permission of the Trust.
For further information, email firechildren@icon.co.za