Firecracker injuries: A failure of social control

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Monday, January 6, 2014


THE statistics shared by the Department of Health (DOH) states that a total of 804 firecracker-related injuries have been documented from a period of December 21, 2013 to January 2, 2014 among the 50 sentinel hospitals nationwide.

The DOH also maintains that in Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), the sentinel hospital in the region, a total of 73 cases of firecracker-related injuries were recorded during the specified period, with majority of the cases involving children aged five to nine years and 10 to 14 years old.

Every year, this scenario is nothing new: only that there are new victims who are young and are more vulnerable.

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The mere fact that news regarding firecracker-related injuries invades the broadcast and print media every start of the year is enough as a testament that this social phenomenon is already cultural as much as the practice alone of igniting pyrotechnics at New Year’s Eve in our setting.

Years ago, I used to watch the news that are documentary by nature covering the topic on firecracker-related injuries during New Year and I always had this great fear of seeing children, adolescents and adults enduring the excruciating pain of the said injuries as they received medical attention.

Some of them ended up being amputated -- losing a finger, limb or two.

Worst, some have given up their lives in exchange for a short-lived entertainment of several seconds of pyrotechnic display.

For the influence of Chinese customs have been deeply embedded on our culture, the practice of creating noise by way of firecrackers will be difficult although not impossible to eradicate in our holiday list.

Through the years immemorial, the media has been a powerful vehicle of conveying the message that one must be on the on lookout when deciding to use pyrotechnics in welcoming the dawning of the New Year.

One needs not be a sociologist to realize that this is the media’s way of informing the public of the possible dangers and consequences that are posed to health by these tiny insidious tools for entertainment.

The horrible tales regarding the mishandling of the pyrotechnics and the magnitude of negligence among the parents and caregivers of children who ended up victims of the injuries serve as a social control function to direct the public’s behavior to promote healthful practices by prioritizing safety over entertainment in welcoming the New Year.

The pitiful cries of the youngsters and the eerie sight of spurting blood with dangling limbs or other anatomical parts captured on tape and still photos impose fear among us.

The fear created is supposed to control our behaviors possibly giving us second thoughts of using pyrotechnics or at least tell us to be more wary.

The DOH, I believe, also has a similar campaign of using fear as a social control mechanism for the same reasons enumerated above thus hoping to have reduced statistics of injured victims.

As a matter of fact, most posters of the DOH for this campaign present photos of the injured victims receiving medical treatments in full action.

If social control was all there was so that statistics of firecracker-related injuries was reduced or eradicated, then such function must have been a failure considering the alarming figures of those who actually sustained the injuries.

What does it mean then?

Perhaps, the approach of using fear to promote health during New Year’s Eve has lost its glory.

Were the parents of those injured children frightened over the possibility of the latter to sustain such injuries to begin with?

Or does the problem rest over the ineffective delivery of the mechanism -- the media?

Or Filipinos just could not care more to practice safety and welcoming alternative ways of creating noise?

For whatever the answer may be, the conclusion will always be to be more careful next New Year.

And may the horrible experiences of the victims serve as lessons to all of us.

[Email: polo.medical.sociologist@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 07, 2014.

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