Doctors Blame High Number of Child Burns on Parental Ignorance

Two-year-old Rosetta Fokpa lies on her back, left foot raised in the air. A pretty little girl with braids, she cries bitterly. Boiling water scalded her legs, exposing a layer of fresh pink skin. It happened a week ago but the little girl is still in terrible pain. Fokpa’s mother says the child stepped into a pot of boiling when she left her alone briefly.

“[The neighbors who saw it] said they were wrestling up so the other big girl passed beside the coal pot and she followed, I don’t know what happened I just heard the people yelling outside and when I came it was her,” says Fokpa’s mother.

Lying in the children’s ward of the James N. Davis Memorial Hospital, Fokpa is one of as many as 15 children who have been brought to this hospital with serious burns this month. Doctors here are distressed that the number of children who end up here jumps in the rainy season when families bring pots and fires inside the home.

Parental carelessness is largely to blame for the injuries, according to Dr. Torsou Y. Jallabah, medical director at the hospital. “Leaving a child with a teenager, or maybe having a coal pot in the hallway or having a kitchen that is not locked up and the child playing around…that’s what we get terrified with…most of the reasons given us has to do with carelessness,” he says.

Ten to fifteen burn victims, ranging in age from three months old to 14 years old, come into the hospital each month, says Dr. Jallabah. The children suffer terrible pain. They are given heavy pain medicine and will be given general anesthetic every day just to cope with the pain of having their bandages changed. One or two die each month. The children who survive often suffer life-long effects from the burns.
Musa Dolo, 12, is one of those who are dealing with effects long after the original burn. Five months since he was burned with petrol, his head is wrapped in a bandage and the black layer of skin has gone from parts of his hands, legs and stomach. The boy is in constant pain.
Musa’s mother Mary Dolo sits beside him on a hospital bed, praying for the recovery of her son. Dolo says Musa’s friend’s father sent him to buy gasoline. When he brought the gas some of it was poured on ants and he was asked to hold the rest. She says an older boy lit a match to burn the ants and the gallon full of gasoline Musa was holding exploded and he caught on fire.

“I was crying when I saw my son, I feel bad. I was taking the boy to court but the people say I should wait until my son can come from the hospital,” says Dolo.

Musa’s injuries are so severe that his mother fears he will not be able to play like a normal child again since his fingers have been pulled back as the burnt skin has shrunk making his hand unusable. Musa’s injuries are typical in children says Dr. Jallabah who are not willing or find it too painful to do the long term work it takes to heal burns.

“Complications that they develop have to do with contracture,” he says. “You will see that if you don’t flex and extend the arm and you just treat the patient and the wound just heals you will see that there will be contracture, the skin will fold-up and for the person to use that particular arm it becomes difficult,” says Dr.  Jallabah, (A contracture is the abnormal shortening of the muscle tissue.)  On a bed next to Musa lies another 12-year-old boy who is also recovering from injuries caused by burns – in his case, from hot oil.

“My son got burned in hot oil,” says John Kpogbe, the father of the burned child. They were playing and the oil was on the table. He said his friends pushed him and the oil splashed on him.”

Kpogbe says his son should have been preparing for school by now if not for his injuries. The boy reclined with his leg wrapped in bandages stretched in front of him.

“I feel bad because school coming open and such thing happened to him…,” says Kpogbe. “I rushed him to the hospital but God has control over everything.”Kanvee Konneh, who lives in Weala, Margibi  County, was burned from her chest down to her legs and could not reach a clinic until five days after her burn.

The two-year-old was lying on a mat sleeping beside a pot of boiling peanut soup which spilled onto her tiny frame, her mother says in Kpelle.  Fokpa has spent eight days at the hospital and her mother can’t wait to take her home, but with a renewed sense to be more careful to prevent what has happened.

“I will not put hot water near her again,” she says.