Burns biggest killer of young Indian women: Lancet study

Fire-related incidents are behind maximum deaths among young women in India,says a study to be published in the international medical journal The Lancet.

Written by Geeta Gupta | New Delhi | Published: March 2, 2009 4:02 am

Fire-related incidents are behind maximum deaths among young women in India,says a study to be published in the international medical journal The Lancet.

According to the study,death due to burns is not only behind most deaths among women between 15 and 34 years of age,the number is six times higher than the official national statistics in India,compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

The study estimates over 1.63 lakh annual fire deaths in India,2 per cent of all deaths in the country. Of these,1.06 lakh occur among young women; the ratio as compared to young men being 3:1. This age-sex pattern is consistent across multiple local studies.

These incidents have much in common,including the fact that most involve kitchen accidents,self-immolation,or various forms of domestic violence. “Other studies have indicated that among young adult women these deaths are a combination of kitchen accidents,and suicides and homicides related with domestic violence,which could include dowry-related harassment that leads to death,” Prachi Sanghavi,co-author of the study,told The Indian Express from Cambridge,Massachusetts.

“There is no national data on these deaths and the only official source of information is often incomplete and inaccurate police reports,” she added.

To collate evidence,Sanghavi and her colleagues,Kavi Bhalla and Veena Das,estimated fire-related deaths in India for 2001 using data from a national hospital registry for urban areas and a nationally representative survey of causes of death for rural populations.

The authors first computed all the causes for mortality for each age,sex and urban or rural group using the sample registration system and population information from the 2001 Census of India,which gave a total of 8.55 million deaths in 2001.

The researchers then applied the age-sex-specific fire-related death fractions separately for urban (from medical certification of cause of death) and rural (from survey of the cause of death) areas to the estimates of total deaths in India.

It was estimated that 68,000 urban and 95,000 rural fire-related deaths took place in India in 2001. These numbers added to a national estimate of 1.63 lakh deaths caused by fire,of which 1.06 lakh (65 per cent) were females. Fifty-seven per cent of these deaths happened in women between 15 and 34 years of age.

This estimate did not include homicides by fire in rural areas,as the researchers could not adjust for homicides by fire in the survey of cause of death.

In comparison,the NCRB,the only source quoted in the study,reported 19,093 fatal fire accidents among both the sexes and 8,978 suicides by fire and self-immolation in both sexes in 2005,based on collated police reports. “These numbers are about a sixth of our estimate. The NCRB also reports 6,787 dowry deaths in 2005,but the methods used for committing dowry murder are not specified,” says the study.

Given the lack of a national injury surveillance system,the study adds,the only official source of information about incidents of burn morbidity and mortality is police reports.

“However,it is well known that the police can be extremely lax in registering reports and that,in cases of suspected criminality,family members of a victim might be able to bribe police to avoid investigation,” the study says.

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