This morning I would like to speak to the membership of the Paediatric Association of Jamaica, their sponsors and guests at this poster launch event, “Be wise, supervise.” This is an apt slogan and is timely for Jamaican parents and guardians at this time. Children need parents to protect them and keep them safe. They are precious gifts from God to man.
To illustrate my points I want to tell you of two of my friends I’ve met at the Bustamante Hospital for Children. On Monday afternoon’s I read to the children at the hospital, the children are very special to me. I will call my two friends Tony and Brittany.
Tony and Brittany
Both were burn patients at the Bustamante Hospital. Tony was recently released after spending approximately five
years in recovery. He was badly burnt in a fire and his legs are severely disfigured. After many surgeries he is still unable to walk and requires usage of a wheelchair. Brittany’s face is badly scarred. She was burnt after a cup of piping hot liquid was purposefully thrown in her face by an older sibling.
The stories about how these children got to the burn unit have one thing in common, and that is lack of supervision by adults who were responsible for their care and protection. There was no one supervising Tony at the time his house was burnt with him still inside. There was no one supervising Brittany when this tragedy occurred.
Why do I call it a tragedy you might ask? These children are disfigured for the rest of their life and while plastic surgery can fix some of the scars, the severity of the burns, trauma and disfigurement of their little limbs are such that they will never be completely healed.
But, it is the invisible scars that are also of great concern. It is the loss of self-esteem, the psychological damage and the feeling of shame that these children will endure for the rest of their lives. It is the anger some will carry with them for years and, if they unleash this anger on society it could have devastating consequences.
Then, there are the missed opportunities, uncertainties and unfulfilled lives that these children will likely experience. Tony for example will not walk or run in any of the major races at Boy’s Champs or play defense in the Manning Cup. When I think about Brittany I often wonder what stories her wedding pictures will tell and, will there be wedding pictures? She probably hates looking in a mirror.
Children and burns in Jamaica and the Caribbean
Social and economic factors place Jamaican children at a high rate of exposure to accidental burns. According to statistics from the Bustamante Hospital for Children 102 patients were admitted to the Burn Unit in 2010 for burns caused by fire, hot liquids, corrosive chemicals and electrical burns. Many of these children remain hospitalized for extended periods and this severely disrupts their education in the critical formative years.
Data presented at a Caribbean Child Research Conference held at the University of the West Indies last year also revealed that 314 children in the 0-9 age group were treated at the accident and emergency units of public hospitals for severe burns between the periods of January to July of 2009.
A retrospective study on burn patients admitted to the Sint Elisabeth Hospital in Curacao during the 11-year period from 1992 to 2002 was documented in the Journal of International Society for Burn Injuries, A total of 336 burn patients were admitted representing an annual admission of 31 patients and an annual cumulative incidence of 2.3 episodes per thousand persons for burns admissions. Twenty-nine point two per cent (29.2%) of those cases were observed in children 0-4 years.
In both countries the most frequent location of burns are noted on the arms and upper torso of the child making scarring and disfiguration more visible.
If we accept these figures it would mean that in Jamaica we treated nearly as many children for burns in a seven month period as Curacao did over ten years.
Reversing the trend
Statistics aside, the fact is the situation in Jamaica is grave and we need to set about reversing the trend. This must begin with an awareness and public education campaign, which is the reason that I am delighted to be Patron for your safety poster entitled “Be Wise. Supervise.” This safety poster asks the question how do we protect our children from being disfigured by burns?
Most burns in children are caused by inadequate supervision such as when a child pulls at a table cloth and overturns a cup of hot liquid onto him or herself. Children are left to supervise siblings barely younger than themselves. We have heard of instances where a mother leaves home to go to a nearby shop and returns to find the house burnt to the ground and the child either severely burnt or dead? These are real and devastating situations that occur in Jamaica all too often. We need to be proactive in preventing these unnecessary incidences.
I believe burn prevention should be a part of the pre-natal education programme. I believe we need to build meaningful associations with schools, churches, communities and youth groups in order to effect behavioural changes. We need to use these organizations as information channels to educate the public on preventative methods, the laws that have been promulgated to protect our children and the penalty for contravening those laws. We need these organizations to serve as a resource for parents who require supervision for their children when they go to work or have emergencies. Employers can assist by having day care available or subsidized for employees.
I believe we need to encourage the reporting of cases of neglect and abuse in children, which oftentimes result in injuries such as those seen at the Burnt Unit of Bustamante and other hospitals. Whenever we see a child abused we must be so uncomfortable that we are mindful to act. Parents and guardians should be investigated and held accountable for such acts of negligence.
I believe the Paediatric Association of Jamaica is the voice to address this issue, given your proximity to the treatment of children with burns. The Burn Unit is a sad place to visit but we still find the children with an indominable spirit. Let us keep their dreams and hopes alive. Let us ensure that no child in Jamaica has to give up his dreams due to a preventable burn injury. I encourage you to use your experiences and practical examples to reach and educate parents, guardians and children.
This poster not only launches the beginning of public awareness burn prevention but it is also a security for future generations.
The scars from burns and the disfigurement of limbs run deeply and affect the physical, psychological and emotional state of our children. Dr. Arscott and the team at Bustamante do try their very best to fix the visible scars with the limited resources available. However, there is no surgery that can fix the emotional scars and wounds.
I urge parents, guardians, churches, communities and youth groups to join the Paediatric Association and become agents of change. We all need to Be Wise and supervise our children more closely for the prevention of burn injuries.
We need to engage our law makers to revisit our old laws and make laws to penalize parents and guardians who neglect their God given responsibilities.
Ladies and gentlemen, commitment takes our all – if we are going to win this battle, we must give all we have.