“The Isolation of the Burned.”
In Sri Lanka and throughout the Global South, burn survivors often live in an unseen world, ostracized and hidden from society because of their disfigurements and disabilities. This photo of Iresha looking out her window wearing a mask to reduce scarring captures the isolation and stigma burn survivors suffer. The image echoes the words of Dr. Chandini Perera, Interplast's partner in Sri Lanka and Iresha’s surgeon. “Burns is a painful disease-- emotionally and physically. The treatment is painful. The follow up is painful. The response from society is painful. Survivors, unlike someone with a terminal illness, they don’t die; they actually live, but you can’t see them because they can’t come out. Society will not accept them.”
Compounding the prejudices against them, many women, like Iresha, receive their burns through acts of violence. But burns are most often caused by accidents, as the billion plus living in extreme poverty still uses open fires for lighting and cooking. The number of women burned each year also is staggering: nearly 4 million women fall victim to a severe burn from fire each year—the same number who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS every year. According to the World Health Organization, women in Southeast Asia (which includes Sri Lanka and India) who survive burns lose more productive years from fire burns than from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. That is because burns can cause debilitating contractures that restrict crucial functions, like bending an arm or walking, and left untreated can leave one disabled and without income forever.
Thankfully, Iresha is one of the lucky survivors who is receiving reconstructive surgery to restore her abilities and will have a second chance at life, but getting there will be difficult journey.