Burn prevention mechanisms and outcomes: pitfalls, failures and successes

Burns. 2009 Mar;35(2):181-93. doi: 10.1016/j.burns.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Oct 15.


Burns are responsible for significant mortality and morbidity worldwide and are among the most devastating of all injuries, with outcomes spanning the spectrum from physical impairments and disabilities to emotional and mental consequences. Management of burns and their sequelae even in well-equipped, modern burn units of advanced affluent societies remains demanding and extremely costly. Undoubtedly, in most low and middle income countries (LMICs) with limited resources and inaccessibility to sophisticated skills and technologies, the same standard of care is obviously not possible. Unfortunately, over 90% of fatal fire-related burns occur in developing or LMICs with South-East Asia alone accounting for over half of these fire-related deaths. If burn prevention is an essential part of any integrated burn management protocol anywhere, focusing on burn prevention in LMICs rather than treatment cannot be over-emphasized where it remains the major and probably the only available way of reducing the current state of morbidity and mortality. Like other injury mechanisms, the prevention of burns requires adequate knowledge of the epidemiological characteristics and associated risk factors, it is hence important to define clearly, the social, cultural and economic factors, which contribute to burn causation. While much has been accomplished in the areas of primary and secondary prevention of fires and burns in many developed or high-income countries (HICs) such as the United States due to sustained research on the epidemiology and risk factors, the same cannot be said for many LMICs. Many health authorities, agencies, corporations and even medical personnel in LMICs consider injury prevention to have a much lower priority than disease prevention for understandable reasons. Consequently, burns prevention programmes fail to receive the government funding that they deserve. Prevention programmes need to be executed with patience, persistence, and precision, targeting high-risk groups. Depending on the population of the country, burns prevention could be a national programme. This can ensure sufficient funds are available and lead to proper coordination of district, regional, and tertiary care centres. It could also provide for compulsory reporting of all burn admissions to a central registry, and these data could be used to evaluate strategies and prevention programmes that should be directed at behavioural and environmental changes which can be easily adopted into lifestyle. Particularly in LMICs, the emphasis in burn prevention should be by advocating change from harmful cultural practices. This needs to be done with care and sensitivity. The present review is a summary of what has already been accomplished in terms of burn prevention highlighting some of the successes but above all the numerous pitfalls and failures. Recognizing these failures is the first step towards development of more effective burn prevention strategies particularly in LMICs in which burn injury remains endemic and associated with a high mortality rate. Burn prevention is not easy, but easy or not, we have no options; burns must be prevented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burns / epidemiology
  • Burns / prevention & control*
  • Developing Countries
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Policy Making
  • Risk Management / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Socioeconomic Factors