Manchester surgeon helps acid attack victims in Pakistan

One of Dr Asim Shahmalak's patients in Pakistan Photo:

A surgeon from Manchester has travelled to his home country of Pakistan to help the victims of acid attacks.

Dr Asim Shahmalak is one of the only surgeons in the world who can do eyelash transplants.

He's taken those skills and a team of surgeons to a hospital in Karachi, spending £50,000 of his own money to help rebuild the lives of seven women with horrific burns.

Mel Barham has the story.

He's the hair transplant surgeon in Manchester with a list of celebrity clients from Callum Best to Dr Christian Jessen. We first filmed with him here on Granada Reports as he pioneered a new treatment - eyelash transplants. But Dr Asim Shahmalak has travelled far from his clinic near Manchester Airport to help some of the most deserving patients he will ever see.

When I first met Dr Asim, what he was doing at his clinic was revolutionary. Not only was he helping patients with receeding hair but he was pioneering a treatment that only a handful of people in the world are able to do - eyelash transplant. The people he was helping were typically those who for medical reasons have lost their eyelashes or like the woman I met, had been wearing false eyelashes for so many years, that her own had completely fallen out. The difference he made to those patients here in Manchester and from across the UK was massive; but the difference he is about to make on the lives of women thousands of miles away is almost incomprehensible.

He's gone back to his home country of Pakistan to help the victims of acid attacks. More than three hundred people, mainly women, are maimed or killed from acid attacks every year in Pakistan; many more cases go unreported. Acid is easy to buy, with no regulation on the sale. What's more, only 10% of cases ever go to court - most perpetrators never get convicted.

Kanwar Asher was 22-years-old when she had acid thrown on her by a man she refused to marry.

"I've got no idea why its happened but its ruined my life. When I used to look at myself in the mirror I used to cry, I used to think nothing will get better for me. My life has finished my life is ended. When I look at my pictures I feel sad cos I know I was very beautiful before but I'm not beautiful anymore. my family just left me"

Kanwal Asher looking at a photograph taken before the attack
Kanwal Asher recovering after the attack

For these women, the scars are not just skin deep. They are shunned by society, and many even by their own families.

It was a similar story for Kanwal Qayum. She was 23 when her husband organised for someone to throw acid on her.

"I was in so much pain cos my face has melted, my eyes are melted, my nose is melted, I had no will to live and survive....and when I looked at myself I started screaming and howling cos I thought I was crying over my dead body. When I go out I still cover myself, I cover my eyes with glasses and a veil but still if (the public) they see a bit of my face, they keep looking at me."

Acid attack victim Kanwal Qayum before she was assaulted
The extent of Kanwal Qayum's injuries

Dr Shahmalak is one of the only surgeons in the world who can do eyelash transplants. We filmed with him last year as he pioneered the treatment at his clinic in Manchester. But he wanted to give something back to the place where he trained.

"I wanted to pay back, I wanted to give something back to society so that was the reason I came back and hence I'm here. It's really ruined their lives. I feel very sad and very devastated for them but I hope I can give them their hope back and give them part of their lives back."

Dr Asim Shahmalak

He's gone over to Karachi at his own expense, at the invitation of the charity Smile Again Foundation. The charity was set up by a former beauty therapist Masarrat Misbah, who felt compelled to help these women after meeting a victim 20 years ago.

"I was taken aback because I was looking at a woman who was without a face - in front of me was an acid burn victim who had lost eyes, nose, and she was in really bad state. Most of the girls don't make it, don't survive but if they do its very difficult because it's like dying every day, years and years of treatment, which would restore them back their normal self. Their future is dark, most of these girls don't want to live because they don't want to look at themselves, they've forgotten what a mirror is and they know if they look at a mirror they're looking at not what they were."

Masarrat Misbah, President and founder of Smile Again Foundation

For these women, restoring their eyebrows and eyelashes means far more than just cosmetic surgery; For them it is their life. But with their skin so scarred, it is an operation that holds all sorts of complications, with no guarantee of success. Their future is in Dr Shahmalak's hands.

And you can see how Dr Shahmalak gets on with helping these women throughout this week on Granada Reports.

More details at the Smile Again Foundation website

http://www.depilexsmileagain.com/