by Tarcia Hendricks

Up in flames

David Grier supports National Burns Week

Preventing the loss of life caused by shack fires
David Grier supports National Burns Week

At least 15 000 children in South Africa suffer from burns-related injuries every year, with an average of nine children dying each day from these injuries.These shocking statistics make burns the leading cause of injury and death to young children in the country.

Speaking ahead of National Burns Awareness Week (6-12 May 2013),David Grier of the Cipla Foundation, says, this figure tends to rise during the winter months in impoverished areas. “As the winter months approach, the use of candles, paraffin stoves and open fires increases, along with the risk of accidental fires.

“According to reports, over the last five years, there are on average 10 shack fires a day in the country. South Africa’s socio-economic challenges contribute greatly to the high incident rate of burns among those living in informal settlements, with the most vulnerable being children, as dwelling units usually consist of highly flammable substances such as wood, cardboard and plastic and are built in close proximity of each other. 

“With limited services and infrastructure, and minimal safety controls in place, impulsive and fast spreading flash fires are a constant threat. Fire safety is often compromised due to the dwelling units that are built in close proximity to one another. The units usually have little or no access for firefighting teams or their equipment to gain entry to the fires. In addition to this, there is the lack of affordable safe energy appliances available to the communities,” says Grier.

To address the country’s growing shack fire crisis in these informal settlements, as well as the related burns injuries, the Cipla Foundation has launched the Ajuga initiative - a project that will ultimately see fire-resistant structures installed in informal settlements nationwide.

 “By replacing crèches with fire resistant structures, the Ajuga initiative ensures that if there is a fire outbreak, children in the crèches will be protected. With this initiative, we can also provide children with a place of safety and improve the conditions in which they are schooled.”

The first two Ajuga structures, sponsored by the Cipla Foundation, replaced crèches in the informal settlement of Du Noon in Cape Town earlier this year. Currently three more structures are being deployed in this area and another in Khayelitsha. Other projects have been rolled out in the Kwamashu settlement in KwaZulu-Natal.

Grier, who designed the Ajuga structure, says that together with Operation Smile, Cipla Medpro has for many years been involved in raising funds for corrective surgeries for children born with cleft lips and palates. “During the Cipla Miles for Smiles initiatives, we noticed the rapid increase of children being admitted with serious burn wounds and that is when we decided to investigate the causes around this. When we saw the shocking devastation caused by shack fires, we could not walk away. That is when the Ajuga project was conceived.”

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