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National Burns Awareness Week

Updated: May 20

By The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH)

(photo creds: Burns patient at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital)

A leading cause of injury and death among children

Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH), ChildSafe South Africa and the Children’s Hospital Trust join hands to raise awareness this National Burns Awareness Week.


Red Cross War Memorial Hospital, the Children’s Hospital Trust and ChildSafe South Africa join the global community in observing Burns Awareness Week (May 13 – 17), highlighting the devastating impact of burns on children. Burns are a leading cause of unnatural deaths among children aged 1-9 years 2022).


RCWMCH admission statistics show an increase in admissions between June, July, and August, suggesting that injuries occur more frequently in winter due to practices such as the use of paraffin stoves, candles, and fires.


Burn injuries happen in an instant and can have a life-long physical, emotional, and financial impact, not only on the patient but on their families and communities too. 


According to the World Health Organisation, burns are a leading cause of death among children worldwide, with an estimated 180,000 adult and paediatric deaths occurring annually.  96% of burn-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and the rate of child deaths from burn related incidents are more than 7 times higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.


In keeping with finding from other low and middle-income countries, South Africa faces a disproportionately high burden of burns among children. Previous South African estimates suggest that every year, 1 in 1666 children will be burnt per year (average annual rate of 6/100 000 child-years) – however given the burden of cases treated at a local level – it is suspected that this is an underestimate. 


In South Africa, it has been found that 94% of patients will receive treatment and are cared for by provincial facilities.

(photo creds: Burns patient at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital)

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) is the leading tertiary referral centre for Paediatric Burns in the Western Cape and receives referrals from across Africa, whereas Tygerberg Hospital treats adult burns. RCWMCH remains the only referral centre offering advanced clinical care.

In 2023, 722 patients were admitted to the burns unit for inpatient care and 1051 new patients were seen at the outpatient’s clinic.

Patients are treated for range of burns from hot liquid burns, electrical burns, flame burns, chemical burns and hot water burns which is the most common type of burn amongst referral patients.

Approximately 82% of children referred to RCWMCH are treated for hot liquid burns (scalds).

Surgical Consultant of the burns unit at RCWMCH, Dr Tome Mendes says, “Not all burns require admission to a medical facility, but all require the appropriate wound care, as unattended wounds can lead to complications such as poor healing or infection which may lead to prolonged treatment.”

While world class treatment is available, prevention is vital.


Ms Zaitoon Rabaney, Executive Director at ChildSafe South Africa, a non-profit organisation, committed to injury prevention in children says, “We urge parents, caregivers, and communities to take simple yet effective precautions to prevent burns and ensure prompt medical attention when accidents occur, reinforce the risk and speak to children about the dangers of candles, matches, kettles, and hot bath water.”

(photo creds: Burns patient at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital)

The Children’s Hospital Trust, a non-profit organisation that raises funds to support the advancement of child healthcare across the Western Cape and the Continent, works closely with RCWMCH and the thousands of patients who are treated, annually.

The burns service at RCWMCH is one of the busiest services in the hospital, with children and their families travelling long distances to get to the hospital. The Trust is raising funds to spread the burns services care in the greater Western Cape to ensure that all children get access to high-quality paediatric healthcare service closer to their homes.


Ms Chantel Cooper, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Trust says, "Children from remote areas move from multiple health facilities with some having extended waiting time on ambulances before accessing the specialized care they urgently require at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. This not only delays crucial treatment, heightening infection risks and prolonging recovery periods but also places undue strain on families already grappling with immense challenges. With the Burns Project we want to strengthen burns services for children in the Western Cape to ensure earlier intervention, improve overall outcomes and reduce the burden on families who do not reside near Cape Town.”




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