By Abeda Moadeb Telayee
Burn injuries are very common, but there are simply not enough facilities to treat patients.
Shafiqa, 22, talks of her sister who died on the day of her engagement from burn injuries when the “gas balloon” stove of the family exploded. By the time she was rushed from a remote area of Ghazni province to the public Istiqlal Hospital in Kabul, the closest hospital to treat burn patients, she was dead while three others including two sisters-in-law were admitted with serious injuries.
“The house was full of guests, and we borrowed a neighbour’s gas stove to cook. The gas caught fire, and exploded,” says Shafiqa.
Istiqlal Hospital in the west of Kabul has admitted 600 patients in its 40-bed burns ward this year, 230 of them women. Dr Mohammad Sharif Yusufi in the hospital’s burns and plastic surgery ward says 124 of the patients suffered horrific injuries from exploding gas balloons. Other common causes of burns are from boiling oil and water, electrical shocks and cases of either self-immolation or deliberate setting on fire.
Dr Yusufi says the hospital cannot cope with the numbers of patients. “We don’t have equipment or space, and fit 14 beds in a room for four,” he says. He calls the problems chronic. “We don’t have workers to keep rooms clean and we get patients to buy most things we need from outside because we don’t have medicines, not even bandages,” he adds.
Killid sought the opinion of authorities in the Ministry of Public Health, and they expressed helplessness. Khuja Kamarudin Sidiqi, deputy public health minister, says there have always been problems as if to deny the responsibility of the present national unity government. Commenting on the shortage of medical professionals, the minister insists the ministry has frequently demanded the appointment of more staff, but the Ministry of Finance has not released funds.
Mohammad Saleem Rasouli, head of hospitals in Kabul, confirms patients are expected to buy their own medicines from outside because hospitals do not have the money. Rasouli admits that under the rules public hospitals should be providing free medical care.
Apart from Istiqlal, the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital has a burns ward for the treatment of children under 12 years. In 2015, the hospital admitted 900 incidents of burns including 265 children under one year and 171 children between one and two years.
Dr Habibrahman Qasem, head of the hospital’s burns ward, says cases of third degree burns are fortunately the least common.
Hajera, 3, is being treated for burns on both hands from an overturned pan of boiling milk. Her mother Nafas Gul says a year ago her daughter accidentally tipped over the pot while playing. Dadullah, another three year old, has been in hospital for the last three weeks with burns all over his body – the result of falling into a clay oven.
Dr Qasem says the hospital, which earlier had only two rooms and 16 beds, has been able to increase the number of rooms to six and beds to 40.
The only province with facilities to treat burn victims is Herat. The hospital was built 10 years ago with US help. Mohammad Rafeeq Sherzoy, the spokesperson, says 18 patients have been treated, all but one female. Earlier women patients were often victims of domestic abuse, or women who may have set themselves on fire in an attempt to commit suicide. “The incidents have decreased by roughly half this year,” says Dr Sherzoy. Patients who stay beyond a month in hospital have to buy their own medical supplies.