Story

Cooking on Open Fire Causes More Victims Than AIDS

June 09, 2017|

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Jacqueline's mother Eliza holds her daughter - she's still sleepy from her operation. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Jacqueline's mother Eliza holds her daughter - she's still sleepy from her operation. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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Jonah Boniface is 16 years old and has epilepsy. He has been in the hospital for months now. His mother Gloria explains that he fell into the fire when he had a fit. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Jonah Boniface is 16 years old and has epilepsy. He has been in the hospital for months now. His mother Gloria explains that he fell into the fire when he had a fit. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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"I was cooking when he fell into the fire," said Aida, the mother of this two year old boy. Her son's lower back is covered in third degree burns. Sister Chrisy Nyrenda, the head nurse of the department, laughs when she sees the boy: "When he entered our room it was so bad - but now he is getting better soon." Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

"I was cooking when he fell into the fire," said Aida, the mother of this two year old boy. Her son's lower back is covered in third degree burns. Sister Chrisy Nyrenda, the head nurse of the department, laughs when she sees the boy: "When he entered our room it was so bad - but now he is getting better soon." Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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The burns section at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. The patients mainly wounded women and children – harmed in accidents with open fire. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

The burns section at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital. The patients mainly wounded women and children – harmed in accidents with open fire. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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Many children in the burn ward are under five years old. They spend a lot of time with their mother in the kitchen and therefore belong to a high risk group for burns. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Many children in the burn ward are under five years old. They spend a lot of time with their mother in the kitchen and therefore belong to a high risk group for burns. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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Chief sister Chrisy Nyrenda inspects her colleague's medicine cabinet. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Chief sister Chrisy Nyrenda inspects her colleague's medicine cabinet. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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Jacqueline, 2., just comes from the operating room. She suffered severe burns and underwent second surgery at Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital of Malawi Lilongwe. Her mother Eliza has good hope that she will be healthy again soon. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Jacqueline, 2, just comes from the operating room. She suffered severe burns and underwent second surgery at Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital of Malawi Lilongwe. Her mother Eliza has good hope that she will be healthy again soon. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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As a result of severe burns, body parts may be severely damaged. Amputation is sometimes the only solution. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

As a result of severe burns, body parts may be severely damaged. Amputation is sometimes the only solution. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

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Jonah's roommate faces the hall of Kamuzu Central Hospital. Doctors run across the hall and patients talk to each other. Jonah does not speak at all - his face is seriously burned. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Jonah's roommate faces the hall of Kamuzu Central Hospital. Doctors run across the hall and patients talk to each other. Jonah does not speak at all - his face is seriously burned. Image by Nathalie Bertrams. Malawi, 2017.

Every day, women risk their lives by cooking. About 4.3 million people die worldwide a year from "cooking smoke," which is toxic. In Malawi, 98 percent of women cook on open fire or dangerous charcoal burners.

Women and children are particularly at risk, simply because they are traditionally responsible for preparing all daily meals. Many children end up in the hospital because they play near unsafe cooking sites. The burns they suffer sometimes so severe that, amputation remains the only solution.

Kamuzu Central Hospital, home to Malawi’s largest burns department, treats thousands of patients every year. About 75 percent of the unit’s patients consist of children under the age of 5.

The Ministry of Health focuses more on "important diseases" such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Maybe death and damage from dangerous cooking habits are not considered to be important enough.

The Dutch version of this story can be accessed here.