Witnessed an acid attack? Here's how you can help the victim till medical help arrives

Avoid confusion, get the victim proper medical help as soon as possible, and follow these steps meanwhile.
Witnessed an acid attack? Here's how you can help the victim till medical help arrives
Witnessed an acid attack? Here's how you can help the victim till medical help arrives
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On June 24, 2016, 15-year-old Salma Khatun was sleeping in her house in Rafiganj in Bihar's Aurangabad district, unaware of how life was about to change for her forever.

A young man from her neighbourhood, said to be 22 years of age, entered her house and doused her face with acid.

The man had been harassing Salma for sometime now and this was his way of getting back at her after she complained to her father, who in turn approached the former's family.

After struggling for nearly three months in the hospital, Salma died on September 15.

Alok Dixit, who along with Ashish Shukla started the Stop Acid Attacks (SAA) campaign, says that since Salma did not get immediate medical help, she sustained serious burns that proved to be fatal for her.

"They live in a small town. She had to be taken to a hospital in Aurangabad and crucial time was lost," he says.

From 83 in 2011 to 349 in 2015, the number of reported cases of acid attacks has steadily been rising in the country. The number that goes unreported is estimated to be for more.

These attacks can take place almost anywhere - inside the house, in the market, on the train.

The first aid that a victim receives soon after the attack - i.e. before proper medical intervention can be made available - could help to a large extent in controlling the extent of damage, and can even save the person's life.

So what can a bystander witnessing an acid attack do to help the victim?

Dr Ramesh Kumar KT, head of plastic surgery and burns department at Victoria Hospital in Bengaluru, says a few basic steps taken immediately can make a significant difference.

"Try to remove the acid soaked cloth. Wash the area with water but make sure it does not enter the eyes," he states.

There are some acids that react with water, but Dr Ramesh says that the ones generally used in such attacks can be washed with water.

Alok, who has also co-founded Chhanv Foundation, a non-profit that helps and works with acid attack survivors, says every minute after the attack is crucial.

Often in such situations, crowds get tense. The police too, in some cases, will first take the victim to the station to lodge a complaint and later to a hospital.

In 2006, Rupa, another acid attack survivor who is part of SAA, had acid thrown at her. Alok says she was first taken to the village hospital, then to the police station and finally to a bigger hospital. She sustained major burns.

"It is important to avoid confusion," says Alok.

"Firstly, call and report the matter to the police so that immediate help reaches the person. Secondly, remove acid soaked clothing from the person's body so that the liquid does not seep deep into the body. Remove jewellery or accessories from the person's body as well. And be careful not to touch the acid directly. In many cases we have seen family members sustaining burns after they touched the victim or picked them up. Thirdly, wash the area with plenty of water while being careful that the acid-water does not run through the rest of the body," he explains.

Stop Acid Attacks/Facebook

It is equally important to steer clear of misinformation.

A message telling people to use milk instead of water to wash of acid has been doing the rounds on the internet. "It went viral with millions sharing it and many even sent it to us on our page. But this information is wrong and we have spoken to doctors about it as well," Alok says.

Another country that has been witnessing a rise in the number of cases of acid attacks is England. Last month, NHS England, in partnership with British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), issued first aid guidance to help ensure victims of acid attacks get the right help fast.

The three simple steps, as advised, are:

  • Report the attack
  • Remove contaminated clothing carefully.
  • Rinse skin immediately in running water.

"The minutes after an acid attack are critical for helping a victim. This guidance BAPRAS has published with NHS England gives the important, urgent steps a victim or witness can take to help reduce the immediate pain and damage, and long-term injuries," David Ward, President of BAPRAS, said. 

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