Emirati woman restores confidence of acid attack victims

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Ashwaq Al Hashimi says in many of the acid attack cases, surgeries cannot restore a missing part and victims have to wear prostheses for the rest of their lives.  — Photo by Leslie Pableo
Ashwaq Al Hashimi says in many of the acid attack cases, surgeries cannot restore a missing part and victims have to wear prostheses for the rest of their lives. - Photo by Leslie Pableo

Dubai - Intrigued by the art of designing prostheses, she took courses abroad and trained for two years

By Sherouk Zakaria

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Published: Wed 30 Aug 2017, 8:45 PM

Emirati Ashwaq Al Hashimi never imagined she would one day work in prosthetics.
Graduating with a Business Administration degree, she sought a job in Rashid Hospital and was given a role as physiotherapy aide. That's when she met Deril Atkins, the Indian anaplastologist who designed prostheses to restore malformed parts back in 2000.
Intrigued by the art, she took courses abroad and trained under him for two years. In 2012, she opened her own Omniyati Prosthetics Arts Centre in Deira with the support of Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development.
The centre, the first of its kind in the UAE that manufactures all kinds of cosmetic prosthesis from start to end, receives over 100 cases annually from GCC and other Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and Iraq.
"We provide patients who lost body parts as a result of injuries, attacks, birth defects or diseases with prosthetics that would restore their appearance and confidence," said Al Hashimi.
"Our role comes in when plastic surgeries cannot restore certain body parts. While prostheses are only cosmetic, our role extends to helping people retrieve their confidence and be integrated in the society."
Having an eye-orbital prosthesis, for example, helps protect the eye socket and bone development for children, she said. "In some cases, children renew their parts every six months depending on their growth."
The centre manufactures silicon-made prostheses including facial prosthesis, nose, ears, fingers, hands and feet, with about 85 per cent of the cases requesting eye prosthesis.
"The prosthetics field is still growing in the Middle East. There are currently limited facilities that provide such services in the Arab World," said Al Hashimi, noting the increase in number of patients.
Her first case and prolonged support to acid victims
In collaboration with Atkins, the centre helped fund and design the facial prosthesis for Zakia, the Pakistani acid attack survivor of Saving Face documentary that won the Oscar at the 84th Academy Awards.
"In many of the acid attack cases, surgeries cannot restore a missing part, so victims have to wear prostheses for the rest of their lives," said Al Hashimi.
Currently, Al Hashimi is seeking support to help three other acid attack cases coming from Egypt in the next few months. She stressed on the difference made with the support of other hospitals in the country in operating on the medical side that enables the prosthesis to be applied.
"In Sana's case for example, the difference wouldn't have been possible without the support of the American Academy of the Cosmetic Surgery Hospital," she said, noting that further funds are needed to complete Sana's treatment.
"Acid attack victims are not covered by insurance or charitable organisations because it's labelled under the umbrella of plastic surgeries. Therefore, they suffer socially and psychologically along with their families and those surrounding them," she said.
She noted that nothing replaces the feeling of making a difference to people whose lives have been stripped away. For Al Hashimi, it goes back to giving people good quality pieces. "Patients are already suffering so it's our duty to do our job with love and passion.
"If you're in the field, and found yourself counting how much money you'll get out of it, then you lost your profession and humanity. You have to have the passion for it."
Acid attacks: It's not just a phenomenon in developing countries
There's a common misconception that acid attacks take place only in developing countries. They are, in fact, a worldwide phenomenon that has been on constant rise. More than 1,800 acid attacks have been reported in London since 2010 and the city recorded 261 attacked in 2015, rising to 458 last year. This year alone, 119 such attacks were recorded in the UK.
Acid attacks have also been recorded in Canada, Italy (with 27 registered assaults in 2016) and other industrialised countries. Approximately 1,500 acid attacks are recorded worldwide annually. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia and Uganda are countries with the highest reported incidence. While more than two-thirds of recent victims in the UK are men, globally, 80 per cent of acid attack victims are women and girls.
How to act quickly during an attack?
If you're a witness to an acid attack, it's important to act as quickly as possible to minimise damage to the eyes, skin and surrounding tissues. Place the burn under running water for at least 15 minutes to disperse the chemical.

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