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Table of Contents
Editor's Note
In Focus Health Highlights
International Health

Spring 2002; Volume 3, Number 1
International Health

Acid Attacks: Bangladesh's Efforts to Stop the Violence
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A Broader Problem

While acid violence is treated here as a specific, isolatable human rights violation, it is part of a broader type of brutality and cruelty prevalent beyond Bangladesh. Despite the growing number of male victims, the majority of acid violence and certainly its historical roots are seen as a component of a broader phenomenon of gender violence. According to Ivy Rahman, chairperson of the organization Jatiya Mahila Sagstha in Bangladesh, the "attitude of the male-dominating society towards women has to be changed first to put a stop to acid pouring."[8]

And although acid violence was initially thought to be a problem endemic to Bangladesh, it is becoming increasingly identified in other South Asian countries. This is consistent with a broader sphere of gender violence. In India, 174 cases were reported in 2000, a per capita incidence of about 1/15 that of Bangladesh, but an absolute number approaching those of Bangladesh.[9] It has been detected also in Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. ASF has proposed an international workshop for early 2002 to bring NGO and government leaders together to collaborate on a regional effort to combat acid violence.

NGO Efforts to Combat Acid Violence

Although the specific approach to countering acid violence varies between Naripokkho and ASF, both have a general five-prong approach: public awareness, case reporting, short-term treatment, long-term treatment, and legal justice. Public campaigns have been successful in educating residents throughout Bangladesh about what to do in case of an attack, as well as conveying the importance of finding competent medical care within three days. Further, through interventions such as a program which recently placed acid survivors and national celebrities side by side at a musical concert, NGOs and national media are attempting to inform society about acid violence and the need to accept victims back into society as survivors not to reject them and treat them as outcasts.

In an effort to provide medical care for acid victims, the Bangladeshi government established a burn unit at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. This unit, created in the late 1990s, contains 8 beds and employs 3 plastic surgeons. It is the only burn facility in this country of 130 million people; therefore, it is frequently inaccessible to acid victims.

Long delays in medical care have hampered recovery for most past victims, and, once provided, the medicine was very limited in scope. The ASF has been instrumental in establishing a response network that utilizes float-planes and other NGO resources to ensure that victims receive treatment at Dhaka Medical College within three days of the attack, and at no cost to the victim or his/her family.[10] The ASF also created and maintains Thikana House, the only care facility exclusively for acid victims. Currently, Thikana provides limited medical care for less serious burns and follow-up care after surgery. Thikana also offers counseling, skills training, and other rehabilitation programs to help survivors reintegrate into society. Within two months, Thikana will open a 15-bed surgery unit at the Center for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed, thereby eliminating dependence on local hospitals. In the last two years, 50% of all attack victims have benefited from the services of ASF.[11]

Victims need long-term as well as short-term care, primarily in the form of specialized plastic surgery. In 1999, European donors sent a group of six Bangladeshi survivors to Spain for six months to receive high-quality care. The intervention, while costly, was very successful in raising morale among the survivors being treated. It also offered hope to those survivors in Bangladesh who had not yet received definitive care. Since then, nearly two dozen survivors have traveled to the U.S. and Europe for six to twelve months to receive long-term care. In March, 2001, Healing the Children, a U.S.-based NGO, sent a 9-person surgery team to Bangladesh that performed 34 high-quality plastic surgery operations in 5 days. According to John Morrison, the Executive Director of ASF, as well as the US Embassy in Dhaka, the trip was highly successful from a treatment standpoint.[12] Morrison hopes to bring physicians to Bangladesh again to perform the operations rather than send patients abroad to the U.S. and Europe, becausedoing so would have a much wider impact for the same cost. He hopes eventually to have a resident surgery team at Thikana comprised of foreign physicians who serve temporary tours of service.

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