Burns contribute significantly to the global burden of death and disability, resulting in at least 300,000 deaths annually, and are one of the leading causes of disability-adjusted life-years lost in low- and middle-income countries. Burns have been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the ‘forgotten global public health crisis’.

In 2004, the incidence of burns severe enough to require medical attention was nearly 11 million people and ranked fourth in all injuries, higher than the combined incidence of tuberculosis and HIV infections. 

Our researchers are investigating methods to better prevent and treat burns in Australia, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. 

In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience more burns than other children, and having consistent access to high-quality care is fundamental to good outcomes in burns care. A recent study led by the UNSW Centre for Big Data Research in Health, supported by researchers at The George Institute for Global Health put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and serious burns injuries in the spotlight. It found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are less likely to be treated in a hospital with a paediatric burns unit, despite needing more intensive treatment and a longer stay. 

Building on this work, our researchers are exploring the care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with burns through a cohort study in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The study is following children for at least two years post burn to understand the impact and cost of burns. It will culminate in a roundtable to develop a new model of care, planned for late 2018. 

In India and Nepal our work has included research into developing home and community based rehabilitation for burns survivors, and identifying priority policy issues and health system research questions associated with recovery outcomes for burns survivors.

India has one of the largest burdens of burns with an estimated seven million burn injuries per year, disfigurement and permanent disability in 250,000 people annually. Burns survivors are financially distressed, vocationally challenged and socially excluded. Our researchers have found that the biggest challenge for recovery is the stigma and social exclusion associated with burns disfigurement both within the healthcare system, as well as in the community. 

Currently in low- and middle-income countries the risk of burns disfigurement is increased as few patients with burns in these regions receive appropriate first aid or immediate acute care, and this issue is compounded by limited access to rehabilitation. We’re working to develop acceptable models of burns care from consumer, provider and health manger perspectives to help improve access to appropriate care and rehabilitation.

Listen to the BBC Health Check story on burns in India including stigma and recovery, featuring Dr Jagnoor, Senior Research Fellow, The George Institute for Global Health.