Vol. 4 Num 55 Sun. July 20, 2003  
Star Health

Acid Survivors Foundation in the forefront
The trend of acid throwing has been changing. From what it was ten years ago, it has now drastically changed due to social awareness and stringent laws.

Executive director of Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF), Monira Rahman, talked to the Star Health Desk last week and shared her views on the problems and future plans of the Foundation.

When did you join ASF and how it came into being? I joined ASF in 1998. There was a proposal to British High Commission from Spain to organise a trip with a group of acid survivors from Bangladesh for their treatment. Dr John Morrison, the first executive director of ASF, who was initially involved with the project, realised while organising the trip that there was no scope for rehabilitation for acid survivors and no one to provide support. He then felt the necessity of establishing the Acid Survivors Foundation with the aims to offer free treatment services and also provide social and psychological support.

Why did you join and how do you think you can contribute in the field? Before joining the foundation I worked at a non-government organisation for the welfare of the society. I always felt the necessity to do something positive for our community from my social commitment. In 1999 I attended a seminar on child rights and witnessed two acid survivors. Seeing the severe physical disfigurement of some of the survivors i became quite shocked. But when I talked to them I found the profound inner mental strength that moved me to do something for them.

Regarding acid throwing, has this trend declined or has it been increasing and why? The trend of acid throwing has been changing. From what it was ten years ago, it has now drastically changed due to social awareness and stringent laws. Usually women are the ones who suffer the dreadful casualty in life. But recently we have noticed that men are also being attacked. Acid attacks on males were 36 per cent in 2000. The causes of acid throwing are increasing. In these days acid throwing in family and land disputes is increasing enormously. I think the reasons for the increase in the number of attacks are lack of adequate social awareness and lack of implementation of legislation.

What is being done to prevent this dreadful act in society? The social work for the prevention of acid throwing is very negligible. Advocacy programmes are inadequate and laws are not implemented to the spirit. So the rate of acid attack is still increasing alarmingly.

What role are ASF and government playing to support the survivors? There is very scanty support for the rehabilitation of acid survivors from the government. ASF is putting it best efforts for the rehabilitation of acid survivors.

The main problem is the lengthy procedure to implement various projects. We have talked with the ministries of health, law, home, women and children's affair and ministry of social welfare. The ministry of law has modified the Act on Prevention of Women and Child Abuse (95) to 'Acid Control Act 2002' and 'Acid Crime Control Act 2002'. Government should increase the support to the NGOs to work with them.

We are working on four aspects with the acid survivors. We work for the treatment of victims, provide legal support to the survivors, arrange rehabilitation and protection of acid throwing.

We have a 31 bed nursing care unit in the capital. We work for the survivors with a nationwide networking system incorporating different NGOs and our volunteers. We help the victims to take legal action against the accused. ASF also offers all necessary facility for further treatment like re-constructive surgery, skin grafting and plastic surgery.

Furthermore, we work for the advocacy to prevent acid throwing and try to change social values regarding acid throwing.

Compared to other countries where do you put ASF's initiative? I am very pleased to inform that ASF is the leading foundation that works for acid survivors in the sub-continent. I do not know of any other organisation working on principles the way ASF is working.

Although in countries like Hong Kong, China, Indonesia there are reports of acid violence but many consider ASF a model in providing a comprehensive support to the survivors.

When we started ASF there were so many hurdles for us as there were no statistical information on the violence for us. We started it through trail and error method. At the initial stage we did not realise that the problem was so big.

We have only one burn hospital under construction. Do you think this is enough to address the problem or do you feel there should be more such hospitals? This is obviously insufficient to deal with the increasing incidents of acid throwing. The construction of the hospital is taking a long time to be completed. In future there should be more such specialised hospitals dealing with acid burn cases.

About rehabilitation of the survivors, are you happy with the present support programme? The present support programmes are not enough to manage the present crisis. We do not even have a specialised hospital exclusively for the acid burn cases. There is a burn operation theater at Dhaka Medical College Hospital and there are only eight beds allocated for the patients of plastic surgery, re-constructive surgery and burn cases.

Sir Salimullah Medical College and Mitford Hospital also has a eight-bed unit for plastic surgery. The facility is very poor in comparison with the demand.

We need blood, eye and skin for grafting for the treatment of the acid survivors. But our blood banks and eye banks cannot provide us with enough. Moreover, we do not have a tissue bank. We must develop these facilities to improve the services for the acid survivors.

Who are your partners and how do you describe in general people's response to support survivors? We work with UNICEF and different NGOs based at home and abroad. At home we work with BRAC, Jatiya Mahila Sangstha, BSEHR and some other organizations having common focus. Adequate human resources are needed for the treatment of the acid survivors. What the people can do is to promote the social values to prevent acid throwing. To change the mentality of our community is very much necessary to prevent the dreadful crime.