At least 58,188 burn victims were admitted to DMCH in the last 10 years
Seventeen-year-old Al Amin worked as a temporary labourer for the establishment of Gazipur Palli Bidyut Samiti.
On August 13, he was working on a 33-kilovolt line by climbing on a huge cement pole. He received an electric shock on his left hand as the power connection was on in the other two power lines running over the same pole.
He immediately fell to the ground but was saved for the rope tied to his waist. He is currently undergoing treatment at Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery with burn injuries on his left hand, left side of his chest and a part of his head.
“For Tk12,000, I was working to set up new power connections. The contractor provided non-conductive shoes but did not provide any other safety equipment, including helmets. Today, I am in this condition because the electricity on the other two lines were turned on without my knowledge,” said Al Amin.
Pavel Rahman, 32, a resident of Panchagarh, had a similar accident while trying to connect the national grid line to Debiganj sub-station in Thakurgaon, suffering a devastating blow - both his legs had to be amputated. Though Pavel survived, he wonders if he will ever be able to earn a living by working again.
The number of burn victims has been on an alarming rise in Bangladesh over the years, and most of them are in their youth or working age.
Doctors at Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery said there has been a growing trend in the last few years of burn injuries caused by electrical connections or device explosions.
The death rate is also high -- as in the recent explosion at a mosque in Narayanganj. Most of their families suffer as the breadwinner gets paralyzed or die prematurely, the doctors added.
Situation of burn units
The specialized Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery was inaugurated last year. Before that burn victims were admitted to the burn and surgery department of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), which started on June 1, 2011.
Earlier, the general ward of DMCH provided this service since 2004.
According to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, since 2011, 58,188 patients have been admitted to the institute.
Moreover, various government medical colleges and private hospitals have burn and plastic surgery departments. However, during a disaster, all burn victims are admitted to DMCH.
In 2020, 2,854 people were admitted to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
According to the admission information of the burn unit, the rate of burn victims has increased in rural areas since 2019. One of the reasons behind this is that most of the villages have electricity now.
In 2020, 25% of the burn victims were from Dhaka, 55% were from villages and the rest 20% were from other cities. In 2019, 7,344 people were burnt, of whom 30% were from Dhaka city, 45% from rural areas and 25% from other cities.
Of the admitted patients, 69.4% were in critical condition, 23.6% were non-emergency (routine) and 7% were referred from another hospital.
A study by Sheikh Hasina National Institute found that admissions of burn victims to the Outdoor Patient Department (OPD) are also growing at an alarming rate.
In 2004, 1,285 people were treated at Dhaka Medical's OPD while 514 people were treated indoors. The number gradually increased and in 2016, 51,973 people were provided treatment in OPD.
At least 56% of the OPD patients are men and 44% are women. Meanwhile, 61% male and 39% female are admitted indoors. However, the rate of severe burns is higher in women.
In terms of age ratio, in 2016, 2,754 out of 6,139 burn victims were between the age of 15 and 54 -- in their working age. Meanwhile, the number of young men and women patients between the age 15 and 24 was more alarming – 1,529. The most critically injured patients were between the age of 18 to 32.
Dr Tanveer Ahmed, associate professor of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, said usually patients with 40-50% burns can be saved but if respiratory tracts are burnt, the possibility is diminished.
Almost everyone admitted in this institute has burnt respiratory tracts. So did the victims of Narayanganj mosque blast incident, for which the death rate is so high, he added.
The doctor also said that research has shown most of the people, suffering or dying from burn injuries, are in their youth or working age.
A large portion of those who work on power lines or repair electrical devices do not have safety equipment. Moreover, there is no hospital allocation for their rehabilitation. The families suffer in two ways.
The study said that among the causes of burns, there has been a recent increase in the incidence of electrocution.
At least 27% of the burn injury cases were for electric causes, 32% for flames, 28% for hot water, 9% for other hot objects, 2% for chemicals, less than 1% for explosions and less than 1% for lightning.
In 2004, 183 of the accidents happened indoors while 514 happened outdoors. However, in 2016, the number increased to 6,139 indoors and 758 outdoors.
In 2018, 834 out of 56,900 burn victims died – most of whom were between the age of 20 and 40.
Dr Samanta Lal Sen, national coordinator of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, said that the fatality rate of burns due to electrocution has been increasing in the last few years due to carelessness, illegal electricity and gas lines and failure to check or monitor them regularly.
Those who are working with electricity do not follow the necessary safety rules. It is important for those concerned to pay attention to these issues to save a life or the earning member of a family.