Expert advice on how to treat and prevent burn wounds

A child sustained heavy burn wounds on her hands during a house fire. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA).

A child sustained heavy burn wounds on her hands during a house fire. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA).

Published May 22, 2024


Burn injuries are a major cause of death and disability in South Africa.

From minor discomfort to life-threatening emergencies, they are also becoming distressingly common and can be caused by hot water, fire and electrical mishaps.

Mande Toubkin, the general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment at Netcare added that youngsters are particularly prone to burn wounds.

“Children are naturally curious and as soon as they start walking, they begin exploring their environment and they may, for example, try to pull pots or kettles filled with boiling water down, touch hot objects like stove-tops, or play with fire, matches or candles.”

Toubkin added that indoor fires caused by candles or paraffin lamps which are left unattended are also commonplace in South Africa.

With the prevalence of burn wounds in South Africa, particularly as the nation heads into winter, a season when many will start to make fires or use heating appliances, Toubkin advocated for simple interventions like containing flames with sand-filled bottles and educating children on fire safety techniques.

Understanding burn severity

Highlighting the determining factors of burn severity, Toubkin stressed the critical need for tailored treatment and timely access to specialised care.

Superficial partial thickness

These are known as first-degree burns, which typically heals with minimal scarring.

Deep partial thickness

These are second-degree burns, which usually require medical advice as it can cause severe pain and blistering.

Deep thickness

These are third-degree burns which require immediate medical attention due to extensive damage.

Toubkin’s do’s and don'ts of first aid for burns


  • Remain calm: Keeping a level head is crucial in any emergency.
  • Extinguish flames: Teach the “Stop, Drop and Roll” technique, especially to children.
  • Ensure safety: Prioritise safety, especially in electrical or chemical burn cases.
  • Cool the burn: Run cold water over the affected area for at least 20 minutes.
  • Seek medical help: Call emergency services immediately for the appropriate assistance.
  • Address smoke inhalation: Prompt evaluation is crucial to prevent complications.


  • Do not try home remedies: Avoid applying ice or oily compounds to burns.
  • Do not peel blisters: Opening blisters can increase infection risk.
  • Do not underestimate the severity: Consult medical professionals for proper assessment and treatment.

Toubkin’s burn prevention tips

  • Adjust geyser temperatures to prevent scalding.
  • Control bathwater temperature to avoid burns.
  • Keep hot appliances out of children's reach.
  • Maintain fire extinguishers and smoke detectors.
  • Exercise caution with flammable substances and heat sources.
  • Do not use liquid accelerants to start fires.
  • Ensure electrical safety and responsible smoking habits.

Toubkin concluded that with swift action, most burn patients, even those with burns over more than 70% of their bodies, can be successfully treated and managed if medical attention is timeously seeked.

“Having witnessed the plight of so many seriously injured and desperately ill patients, many of whom are young children, I urge everyone to educate themselves and their loved ones to help prevent burns,” she stressed.

“Together, we can effectively reduce and mitigate the toll of burn injuries, offering hope and healing to those in need.”