One day while visiting the Philippines, I met a young girl named Angel. One of the most beautiful girls I have seen. My heart jumped when I saw her severely burned legs. She had been playing in the kitchen of her home when the hose to the stove broke due to its being brittle from age. Angel was caught in the crossfire of the hose as it danced shamelessly through the room, severely burning the back of her legs and arms. The accident, which took place almost one year ago, has resulted in the contracture of her legs and feet, disabling her as she is not able to stretch out her limbs fully.
Angel is not alone. Every five seconds someone in the developing world suffers a burn injury. 40 percent of these victims are children. In fact more children die from burn injuries caused by fire than tuberculosis or malaria. And without proper treatment, burns can lead to permanent disabilities.
Unfortunately, there is a shortage of healthcare professionals in developing countries with training and supplies to treat these cases. Physicians for Peace works with local hospitals and clinics to provide rehabilitation and psychosocial support to burn victims. By mobilizing materials – compression garments, plaster and plastic– and providing hands-on training at burn units in Asia, Central America and South America, Physicians for Peace is helping to build the capacity of communities to treat the growing number of burn cases each year.
In a partnership with a local hospital and Physicians for Peace, Angel received the proper care needed to restore her mobility. Many children are not as lucky.
And burn injuries are just one form of disability. There are over one billion people worldwide living with one or more physical, sensory (blindness/deafness), intellectual or mental health impairment. 80 percent of these individuals live in developing countries where they are often over looked – not only in the lack of quality healthcare but also in employment, education, and social settings. That’s 800 million people not provided with the opportunity to thrive.
Today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must raise our voices for each person with a disability who faces the burden of being overlooked. And we must demand more sustainable, localized and creative healthcare solutions that can change lives not temporarily, but forever.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities may not be part of your usual conversation but it can be; and today it should be.
Visit www.physiciansforpeace.org and follow @Physicians4Peace on Twitter to learn more about the challenges of living with a disability in developing countries and how medical education can help save lives.