On Burn Awareness Week, Johnson & Johnson highlights the work of a clinic in Johannesburg
Our skin both protects us from the world and lets us experience it. It fits us perfectly, stretches as we grow, warns us of danger, allows us to feel wind and sun. But it is also delicate. In low-resource areas, where women and children are more likely to spend time around open fires and cooking stoves, serious burn victims experience a trauma that leaves them vulnerable in a way most of us can’t imagine.
Twenty-one years ago, the Johnson & Johnson Burn Treatment Center opened its doors at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. The hospital is located in Soweto, a primarily poor urban neighborhood of Johannesburg whose residents were subject to discrimination and violence under apartheid. When it opened, the burn treatment center was the only one of its kind in Africa, and in an area more commonly known for poverty and racial tensions. In two decades, the center has seen nearly 12,000 patients and performed more than 9,000 procedures.
Today, doctors from around the world visit the clinic in Soweto to learn new skills in burn management, and the medical and nursing staff there share a special understanding of the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable moments. It was this understanding that led Victoria Makalima, assistant director of nursing at the center, to return to school for training in psychiatry so she could counsel her patients and provide them with emotional support to accompany their physical healing. “We measure the success of burn injury management by the successful assimilation of the patient into the community after injury. If we accomplish that, I say we have achieved our goal,” Victoria says.
In October, we were privileged to take part in a special professional development workshop at the center, supported by the South African Burn Society, to highlight advancements in burn treatment and management. The symposium featured two surgeries, including one to treat a pediatric burn patient. Both procedures were streamed live to 80 other surgeons and burn health professionals – a remarkable reminder of how health and technology can intersect to improve access to health information and care all over the world.
The ability to restore health and wellness that is more than skin deep is what is so rewarding about this work. The partnership that made the burn center possible is at the core of the Johnson & Johnson commitment to saving and improving lives, building the skills of those who serve community health needs, preventing diseases and reducing stigma. Our vision of making life-changing and long-term improvements in human health continues to be realized through the hard work and dedication of the multidisciplinary specialists who make the burn center the success story it is today.
Roger Crawford is executive director, Government Affairs and Policy, Johnson & Johnson, and recent recipient of the Lifetime Acheivement Award by the South Africa Burn Society. Conrad Person is director, Worldwide Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson.