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Treating burns with fresh aloe vera

Burns are a common cause of disfigurement and death in children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Banjul, the capital city of The Gambia, is no exception. Burns are often caused by the charcoal fires used for cooking in the yards of homes. Owing to the lack of a reliable electricity supply and the high price of gas, charcoal remains the most commonly used energy source for cooking.

However, the same yard is often a play area for children, meaning that accidents can easily happen. Burns from hot oil, boiling water or smouldering charcoal frequently occur.

There is little investment in preventive measures and care following discharge from hospital is often inadequate. Treatments whose healing power is unproven and therefore counterproductive are still common.

Claudette Sarr-Krook is a Dutch immigrant in The Gambia who set up the Care for Natural foundation there. She also started a centre for burn treatment for children on a small farm in Mariamakunda. The treatment involves applying freshly sliced open leaves of aloe vera that are placed on the burn.

In 2020, the Ostend-Banjul city link received a European project grant that subjected this treatment technique to a comparative study in the clinical environment of the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH). Children under the age of 15 with burns of less than 25% of their body surface were treated either with Silver Sulphadiazine (SSD) or aloe vera between February 2022 and June 2023.

The study showed that treatment with aloe vera was equally effective and often led to better and faster healing. The purpose of this study was also to draw more attention to the need to seek medical attention for burns as soon as possible. The presence and availability of aloe vera could make medical help in treating burns more accessible.

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