A burn is an injury to the skin or other organic tissue primarily caused by heat or due to radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction or contact with chemicals. Skin injuries due to ultraviolet radiation, radioactivity, electricity or chemicals, as well as respiratory damage resulting from smoke inhalation, are also considered to be burns.
Globally, burns are a serious public health problem. An estimated 195 000 deaths occur each year from fires alone, with more deaths from scalds, electrical burns, and other forms of burns, for which global data are not available. Fire-related deaths alone rank among the 15 leading causes of death among children and young adults 5-29 years.
Over 95% of fatal fire-related burns occur in low- and middle-income countries. South-East Asia alone accounts for just over one-half of the total number of fire-related deaths worldwide and females in this region have the highest fire-related burn mortality rates globally. Among the various age groups, children under 5 years and older people (i.e. those aged over 70 years) have the highest fire-related burn mortality rates. In addition to those who die, millions more are left with lifelong disabilities and disfigurements, often with resulting stigma and rejection.
The suffering caused by burns is even more tragic as burns are so eminently preventable. High-income countries have made considerable progress in lowering rates of burn deaths, through combination of proven prevention strategies and through improvements in the care of burn victims. Most of these advances in prevention and care have been incompletely applied in low- and middle-income countries. Increased efforts to do so would likely lead to significant reductions in rates of burn-related death and disability.
Harmonizing global burn data collection
WHO and partners are pilot testing a new burn data collection instrument.