Best Investment for a Healthier World


Frontline health workers needed to address the hidden burns crisis

By Sara Anderson, ReSurge International

When 8-month old-Bishal from rural Nepal fell into the family’s open cooking fire, his mother had to travel more than seven hours to seek emergency care for him at the closest hospital. No one in the village or at the local health post knew what to do – and even the district hospital could only stabilize him and not treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist, as the burned skin contracted and “healed,” making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.

After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti, Bishal’s mother, sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Finally, a third hospital was able to restore Bishal’s eyelid, and his hand will soon be fixed through reconstructive surgery. He is one of the lucky ones, even though it took more than one year for him to get appropriate treatment.

Severe burns remain a hidden global health crisis, affecting more than 7 million people a year, most of whom are  impoverished women and children in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. More women worldwide are severely burned each year than are diagnosed with HIV and tuberculosis combined. South Asia is at the epicenter of the burn crisis, where more children die from severe burns than from HIV/AIDS and malaria.

A vast shortage of frontline health workers, doctors, surgeons and facilities for burns in developing countries exacerbates this crisis. When care is available, few poor people can afford it. Without access to adequate care, even fairly minor burn injuries, like Bishal’s, can needlessly cause permanent disabilities. Children miss school, adults cannot work, and many people often live in isolation because of the stigma of their scars and disabilities. Severe burns leave victims with disabilities that cost more than $80 billion a year in lost wages and skills; 95 percent of that economic burden occurs in developing countries, undermining economic and social development where it is most needed.

The good news is that burns are a solvable global health crisis.  Burns can easily be prevented and treated through surgery that corrects disabling injuries and saves countless lives. Training and deployment of frontline health workers in Nepal has already helped to dramatically reduce maternal and infant mortality.

With the support of the U.S. government, other donors, and national governments, a similar strategy to train and deploy frontline health workers could be implemented  to dramatically reduce burn injuries and save lives, while strengthening existing health systems and building capacity. With female community health workers trained in burn prevention and first aid, wound care and splinting integrated into emergency room training, and more surgical support at district hospitals, vulnerable people would gain access to the care they need and not have to suffer with deformities or life-threatening injuries caused by burns.

ReSurge International and its partner International Medical Corps want to bring these frontline health worker solutions into action. To learn more about this silent emergency and how you can help, watch this two-minute ReThink Burns video above and visit  Help us shed light on this silent emergency.