With Palestine’s first community research on burns injuries, MAP is helping improve understanding and treatment

Melanie Coyne, MAP’s Programme Manager, explains how we are helping to reduce the prevalence of burns injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and improve the care that those with burns injuries receive.

Burns are a prevalent health risk in the West Bank and Gaza. Whether caused by industrial accidents, house fires or even arson attacks by settlers, they can cause extreme pain and have serious lifelong effects.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has long recognised these risks, with this year marking ten years since we first began supporting burns care services in the oPt. It is brilliant to see how much we have achieved so far: renovating and equipping burns treatment units in hospitals; delivering specialist training for health workers; and helping to develop Palestine’s first standardised burns care protocols for health workers.

MAP supports four burns units managed by the Ministry of Health (MoH): two in the West Bank (Nablus and Hebron) and two in Gaza (Gaza City and Khan Younis). During my trips to Palestine, I’ve been lucky to visit the burn unit at the Rafidia Hospital in Nablus to witness the amazing work of the staff there, and was also delighted to attend the opening of a new MAP-supported burns unit at Alia Hospital in Hebron in 2017.

In 2018, we also began participating in Palestine’s first large-scale community-based research on the topic of burns. This three-year ‘action research’ project aims to improve the collection of data on burns within the health system, and provide a better picture of how and where they occur. Through this research, we hope to improve local knowledge of how these injuries can be prevented, and managed quickly and effectively when they occur.

We have been conducting this research in partnership with Interburns and the University of Swansea’s Centre for Global Burns Injury Policy and Research (CGBIPR), and the project is being simultaneously implemented in Nepal and Ethiopia. Reliable data on the prevalence and risk factors for burns in the oPt is limited, so we are really pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this important work thanks to a grant from the National Institute for Health Research.

The research has included a community survey of 1,500 households in Gaza and the West Bank as well as focus group discussions and interviews with community members and health workers. This has already taught us a great deal, providing valuable information on the risk factors for burns in urban, rural, refugee and Bedouin community settings. It has also helped to deepen our understanding about communities’ knowledge, attitudes and practices around burn prevention and treatment.

For example, we found that Palestinians in Gaza are more than twice as likely (69.4%) to experience a burn injury than Palestinians in the West Bank (30.6%). Decaying infrastructure, overcrowding and poor living conditions as a result of 13 years of blockade and closure are likely to contribute to high rate of burns in Gaza. A chronic electricity crisis – causing increased reliance on candles for lighting and gas for cooking and heating – may also play a part in exposing people to these risks. The research also showed that people living in refugee camps are most vulnerable to burns, and that women are at significantly higher risk than men, comprising 69% of reported injuries.

The results also demonstrated the long-term impact of burns beyond the initial pain and discomfort. For example, 16.8% of people who reported having experienced burns in the last 12 months have suffered disability as a result of their injury. There are also negative economic and other impacts for families: 2.6% reported that they had lost their jobs as a result, and 18.9% that they or a family member had to stop working to take care of the injured. Around one in ten affected people reported a decline in income and a decline in food supply. In 15.9% of cases, the affected person or a family member had to stop their education as a result.

 The full report and the summary are available online to read.

This research has already been instrumental in informing MAP’s burns programme on the ground. Earlier this year, we used the findings to implement a pilot awareness-raising campaign in several communities in the West Bank and Gaza. We produced materials explaining how to prevent and care for burns, including a film of a puppet show for families which was widely viewed on social media. Brochures and posters were also distributed to households, schools, health facilities, restaurants and shops. Unfortunately the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus) meant we had to postpone some planned group education sessions, so we instead focused on spreading the messages through popular local radio stations, helping us reach a much wider audience.

The research findings will help support the work of our partners and the health system by informing the development of programmes, interventions and national policies – so that we can ultimately keep people safe from burns, and ensure a quick and full recovery when they are affected.

If you would like to support MAP’s work to reduce the prevalence of burns injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and improve burns care, please donate today:

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