How burn wound training helps Tanzanian doctors – KIT investigates


Many adults and children in the developing world sustain burn injuries every day as a result of cooking – on their open fire. The consequences are often dire: many can no longer work due to permanent damage. For a good outcome, burns need proper medical treatment fast, and this is not easy to come by in rural Africa. Patients need to travel far to reach healthcare facilities. And adequate first aid services are not always available when they arrive.

The burn victims in the area of Haydom, northern Tanzania, often have difficulty moving their limbs properly as a result of scar tissue, which can prevent joints and limbs from moving freely, says Thom Hendriks, who is working on a project aiming to improve the situation. Three years ago a team of plastic surgeons from Amsterdam’s VU Medical Centre arrived at Haydom Hospital as part of a project with Dutch NGO Dokters van de Wereld (Doctors of the World). The objective was to provide an annual two-week training for doctors and nurses in burn treatment and the basics of reconstructive surgery.

Three years later, the time has come to assess the effectiveness of the project. In the coming year, Hendriks, supervised by colleague Barend Gerretsen, a medical expert at KIT Royal Tropical Institute, will look into what worked and what did not, why and how.

“There are so many medical missions, but few measure how effective they have been in improving the patient’s situation,” said Hendriks. The research will start by asking patients simple questions such as: Was the operation beneficial? Can you move your limbs (more) freely now? Are there any complications? They will also ask the local doctors what they found useful about the training and what they will do with the newly acquired knowledge and skills. Last but not least, the two Dutch doctors will explore and recommend the most appropriate surgical interventions for burns in all rural hospitals in Africa, given their limited resources and unsterile environments. The ultimate aim is to have these recommendations become part of standard rural hospital procedures.

During the research project Hendriks will work as global health doctor at the hospital, mainly in the surgery and obstetrics department. “It is unique opportunity to combine my work as medical doctor with this important research,“ he said. To raise awareness of the work performed by global health doctors in developing countries, Hendriks, Gerretsen and their colleagues have  launched a campaign ‘Into the World’. The campaign includes a social media campaign and a book which will be launched during an international ‘Into the World’ symposium on December 9th.

For more information, check out the doctors’ Facebook page  ). If you want to support the doctors’ efforts you can pre-order their book via the website

For more information on KIT Royal Tropical Institute’s work in healthcare, see