Plastic Surgeons in the UK are dealing with a new group of patients: victims of violent assault who have had a corrosive substance thrown at their faces. Most common in South Asia, with the highest number of attacks in Bangladesh, instances in the UK rose by 74% in 2016. And the acid we are talking about can also be an alkali: it refers to any corrosive substance used for attack. Attacks are prosecuted as actual or grievous bodily harm and as of 2017 it is unlawful to carry ‘acid’ with intent to cause harm. Many victims are afraid to come forward so the true number of attacks is thought to be grossly under reported.
Whilst in the UK most perpetrators and victims are men, with attacks linked to gang violence, acid attack is also a gender crime with females becoming victims after refusing marriage or sexual advances. Incidence is linked to low socioeconomic status and poverty. Lack of knowledge about what to do in an attack can exacerbate the effects. Acid burns should be treated with water: thoroughly rinsed for 30 minutes or longer. Mistreatment with oil or other home remedies can increase damage to the victim.
Acid Survivors Trust International provides support to six sister organisations around the world with medical training, funds to support victims and campaigning to change laws:
Acid victims face lifelong disfigurement. They require long term surgical treatment and in depth psychological support. They are often left with disability, unable to find work or a partner, with high levels of anxiety, depression and distress.
In short, an acid attack is horrific: the skull is partly destroyed or deformed and hair lost. Ears and eyelids are completely or partially burnt off, and the nose and mouth shrunken and deformed. Patients have difficulty hearing, seeing, breathing, eating and speaking. Scars restrict head movement and inhalation of acid restricts the throat and nostrils.
If you witness an acid attack, advice is to douse the victim with water, preventing them from touching their eyes. Gently remove clothing that has acid on it and call an ambulance. Do not get acid on yourself. Do not touch their eyes, and shield any part unaffected to avoid splashing. Check they are breathing and responsive.
Tighter regulation of acid sales is needed as corrosive substances are currently cheap and readily available.
Patience Wellbeing, Plastic Surgery Blogger