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Ahl Masr's Campaign To End A Totally Preventable Tragedy

26 January, 2016
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Habiba Reda was 5 years old when, one winter night, her mother lit a fire outside their home to keep the family warm. When her mother accidentally caught alight, the frightened girl ran to her rescue. She hugged her mother tightly in an attempt to extinguish the flames, sustaining extensive head and facial burns in the process. This courageous act left her disfigured. Habiba's story is a common one in Egypt, where due to a lack of fire safety awareness and poor living conditions, over 80,000 people fall victim to fire accidents each year. The problem disproportionately affects the lowest socioeconomic groups, who make up 75% of all burn victims. Along with the heavy financial burden of medical treatment—which can cost a staggering 2,500-3,500 LE per daycomes an even heavier social stigma.

Fighting back is Ahl Masr, an NGO that has worked since 2013 to treat burn victims and create fire safety awareness. To address social perceptions of burn victims, they recently launched their global campaign #HumanityBurnFree. The brainchild of their marketing executive, Hekmat Belassi, the campaign seeks to confront the way we look at the victims of burns. 

"We started the campaign in late December under the slogan 'it's how you choose to see me,' with the hope that we could create awareness that there is more to burn victims than just what you see," Belassi explained. "Around 25% of all burn victims in the country are children. It’s heartbreaking to watch them be rejected by their friends and school colleagues just because of the way they look."

The #HumanityBurnFree viral video and photo campaign plays on the idea that a person is more than skin deep. Over 30 celebrities, including Egyptian actors, comedians and football players have agreed to take part and be photographed by well-known photographer Ahmed Hayman, himself known for his humanitarian projects. In the images, people such as singer Carmen Soliman and actors Hend Sabry and Ahmed El Feshawy are shown covering half of their face, in an attempt to create a wider understanding of the need to look beyond what you see. These simple images are accompanied by stark facts: humans can survive even 80-90% burns, yet in Egypt only 30% of such victims live. Burns are the 11th ranked cause of death in Egyptian children. And for those who survive, public prejudice towards the resulting disability and disfigurement can ruin lives. Through #HumanityBurnFree, the urgency of Ahl Masr’s work has never been clearer.

Since its founding, Ahl Masr has made significant steps towards supporting burn treatment and educating Egyptian communities on burn prevention strategies. To date the NGO has sponsored over 550 surgeries for burn victims, including two of the four reconstructive surgeries that Habiba needs in order to live a normal life. Ahl Masr's 'safe village' initiative also recently finished their first project in Ahmed Allam village in Beni Suef, where they reconstructed safe rooftops and provided fire extinguishers and first-aid awareness to the villagers.

In 2016, they plan to go a step further by creating the Middle East's first burn specialized hospital. "We have already secured the land plot," Belassi said. "The hospital, which will be in New Cairo, will treat both adults and children for free, and will go a long way to bridge the gap between the treatment available and treatment needed." Each year 37% of burn victims die as a result of their injuries, primarily as a result of lack of access or financing to correct medical care. "Currently, Egypt's private and public hospitals are only able to manage around 30,000 of the annual burn cases, leaving some 50,000 without treatment. Additionally, burn treatment is simply too expensive for the poorest segment of Egyptians to afford," Belassi added.

#HumanityBurnFree needs to spread: get sharing! For more information on Ahl Masr, to volunteer or donate visit their site.

Tags #HumanityBurnFree Ahl Masr Egypt Burns burns victims social stigma campaigns Beni Suef Dorra Hend sabry Ahmed El Feshawy Health poverty disfigurement safe village Ahmed Hayman burn treatment

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