Hero surgeon who makes acid attack victims smile again
Naguib El-Muttardi calls for action to restrict sale of corrosive substances
Naguib El-Muttardi, who frequently treats patients maimed in the assaults, said gang violence is behind the increase and called on the Home Office to crackdown on the sale and possession of corrosive substances.
The availability of sulfuric acid, he said, was particularly worrying, as criminal gangs often use the industrial chemical in attacks.
“It's easy to get,” El-Muttardi told Arab News. “It should be considered a weapon and not be so easy to get.”
Part of a team at St. Andrew's Centre for Plastic surgery and Burns at Broomfield Hospital, one of the world's leading burns units, El-Muttardi and his colleagues have been faced with a marked increase in the number of acid attack patients, with most cases taking place in East London.
“They are usually young people,” he said. “Most of them are in gangs.”
According to statistics released by London's Metropolitan Police Service, there were more than 400 acid attacks in the city last year — a 65 percent increase from two years ago when just 260 similar assaults were registered.
While elsewhere in the world, acid attacks are associated closely with so called “honor crimes” and domestic violence, in the UK corrosive substances — often sprayed in the faces of victims — have been adopted as a new weapon of choice by young criminals for use in robberies and gang violence, according to El-Muttardi and other experts on the issue.
Those involved in the crimes, he said, “are trying to do harm without killing.” Instead, the attacks leave victims with horrific and often prominent disfiguration.
Dr Johann Grundlingh, a consultant in emergency medicine and intensive care, who has treated acid attack victims, said the purpose of the attacks is to “brand people.”
“As an attack itself, you're not trying to kill the other person— it's a deliberate attempt to ruin someone's life.”
El-Muttardi was part of the team which treated Naomi Oni, who was left with extensive burns to her face after being doused with acid in 2012 when she was just 20.
Her case featured in a recent BBC documentary on the issue.
Helping victims, who are often in the prime of their lives is a unique challenge, El-Muttardi said. “They are looking for a future, and they will be left with a permanent mark on their face.”
Doctors prevent victims from seeing their disfigured faces until weeks after the initial attack, El-Muttardi said, explaining that the shock is often too much to handle.
Victims such as Oni, El-Muttardi said, require years of treatment, with multiple surgeries and long-standing psychological support. Even after several courses of skin grafts and laser treatments usually requiring weeks in hospital, El-Muttardi said patients are discharged and face a new life marked by the stigma of severe facial scars, he said.
While the resources required to treat a single case vary dramatically depending on the severity of the burn, El-Muttardi acknowledged that treatment is often “very expensive.”
The surgeon, who is originally from Libya but has been practicing medicine in the UK for more than two decades, said that while he has treated acid attack cases for the past 10 years, his team has seen the numbers rising. “We noticed that the number is increasing every year,” he said.
Both El-Muttardi and Grundlingh said they have already treated acid attack victims since New Year. Both expressed concerns that the attacks will continue to increase unless the government adopts restrictions on the sale of the most dangerous acids and implements harsher measures against those found carrying corrosive substances in public.
The sale and circulation of acid, El-Muttardi said, “must be controlled.”
Grundlingh agreed. “The legislation needs to be reviewed to look at how acid or corrosive substances are supplied to the public,” he said.
Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said: “There is no place in society for sickening attacks on people involving acids or other corrosive substances that can result in huge distress and life changing injuries.”
The Home Office is reviewing new legislation that would regulate acid similarly to knives.
LONDON: A leading reconstructive surgeon has called on the UK government to ramp-up action to prevent acid attacks as hospitals face a spike in the number of victims of the “sickening” crime.
Surgeon Naguib El-Muttardi treated Naomi Oni after she was doused with acid in 2012. (Ali Noori, BBC Three)