End the stigma

Facilitating the social integration of burn survivors is pivotal to their psychological recovery

End  the stigma


n a world where headlines are often dominated by political turmoil, economic challenges and social injustices, some important issues can remain in the shadows for too long. One of the frequently overlooked concerns is the pressing matter of burn injuries in Pakistan. The plight of burn victims in the country rarely garners the attention it deserves.

One year ago, the Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting mental well-being, made a ground-breaking commitment to tackle the formidable challenge of burn injuries. With support from the National Institute for Health Research, UK, and UK Aid, they initiated a comprehensive project aimed at addressing the multifaceted issue of burns.

At a pivotal event in the illustrious halls of the University of Manchester, a global mental health research capability building programme was launched. At the heart of this gathering was the burn survivors project, highlighting the collaborative efforts to address the urgent issue of burn injuries in Pakistan, especially its psychological side.

Dr Maria Panagioti, joint lead of the team behind the Burn Survivors project, shared her insights with TNS, underscoring the primary mission of this ground-breaking initiative. She said she and her team aimed to enhance the quality of life for individuals affected by burn injuries, facilitating their social integration and striving for the prevention of future burn incidents.

Dr Panagioti emphasised, “Our core objective is to combat the pervasive stigma associated with this debilitating injury. We are determined to create a society where burn survivors are not only on the path to physical recovery but are also welcomed and embraced without prejudice or discrimination.”

The Burn Survivor Initiative comprises six pivotal work packages, each playing a unique and vital role in the mission.

In Work Package 1, the project harnesses the power of personal experience and a profound understanding of burn care to shape the content of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme. It leverages these insights to guide the development of an impactful social media campaign that will raise awareness and foster positive change.

Work Package 2 is establishing a National Burn Registry, aligned with the principles set forth by the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Registry. This pioneering initiative will play a pivotal role in both the management and prevention of burn injuries in Pakistan, charting a path towards a safer and more informed future.

Work Package 3, a pioneering endeavour, will foster an integrated model for the physical, psychological and social rehabilitation of burn survivors. This model will be designed with active participation of burn survivors, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders.

Work Package 4 takes on the mantle of raising public awareness, with a focus on a dynamic social media campaign. This campaign aims to address the deeply ingrained stigma surrounding burn injuries while also promoting prevention measures and risk assessment in communities, workplaces and industries.

“Our foremost responsibility is to proactively prevent preventable harm. We must save lives and address the psychological repercussions stemming from such injuries.

Looking forward to the next phase, Work Package 5 will see the Burn Survivor project collaborating with policymakers. Leveraging the All-Parliamentary Mental Health Summit platform, the initiative will engage with policymakers and parliamentarians to share findings and service development. The critical engagement is expected to unfold within 48 months.

Work Package 6 will introduce Burns First Aid Training. These training programmes will include master trainer courses developed in collaboration with Interturn, a prominent UK-based global organisation dedicated to transforming burns care in lower and middle-income countries. This initiative will benefit from the expertise and involvement of professionals from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the USA, collectively working towards enhancing the standards of burn care on a global scale.

The project has completed its first year. A notable accomplishment has been the collaboration and capacity building in 12 burn centres across Pakistan. This has been made possible through the generous support of UK Aid, the NHIR-203082 and the backing of the Pakistan Institute of Living and Learning.

In a conversation with TNS, Prof Nusrat Husain, chair in psychiatry at the University of Manchester and a co-founder of the PILL articulated a compelling mission, stating, “Our foremost responsibility is to proactively prevent preventable harm. We must save lives and address the psychological repercussions stemming from such injuries.”

Prof Nusrat Husain emphasised the core objective of minimising mental anguish and trauma by creating a nurturing and safe environment for patients, underscoring the critical importance of a supportive and compassionate atmosphere in their journey to recovery.

According to the World Health Organisation data, an estimated 180,000 deaths a year are caused by burns. A vast majority of these occur in low- and middle-income countries. In Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt and Pakistan, 17 percent of children with burns have a temporary disability and 18 percent a permanent disability. The pressing issue of insufficient rehabilitative services in Pakistan has brought to the forefront the alarming prevalence of post-burn complications, including but not limited to depression, the PTSD, anxiety and the occurrences of scarring and contractures.

The rehabilitation of burn patients is not merely an afterthought but an integral component of their ongoing treatment journey. It is paramount that the rehabilitation process commences from the very day of admission to the healthcare system. This proactive approach is not only aimed at minimising morbidity but also enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals affected by burn injuries.

Huda Ikram is a journalist based in London. She has worked with BBC Urdu and various media outlets in Pakistan. She reports on Pakistani politics and is interested in diplomacy and global politics. Her X handle: @HudaIkram

Usman Arshad is a mental health researcher based in Pakistan. He is working with Pakistan Institute of Learning and Living and University of Manchester. He is also part of the NIHR-funded Burns rehabilitation programme (NIHR203082). His X handle: @Usmanarshad6876

End the stigma