They were photographed by Giles Duley, who lost two legs and an arm after stepping on a mine in Afghanistan in 2011. “I'm a photographer, a chef and a writer, but I'm an amputee myself. Their stories resonate in a very personal way.”
During the 2018–2019 protests, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) tripled its medical capacity to care for the injured, offering plastic and orthopedic surgery, as well as treatment for bone infections resulting from the wounds. We also provided post-operative follow-up, including dressing changes, physiotherapy, pain management, and psychosocial support. From the first demonstration on March 30, 2018, to November 30, 2019, MSF hospitalized more than 4,830 people in its trauma units.
Four years after the protests began, many patients are still dealing with the devastating consequences of their injuries, which have taken an increasingly heavy toll on their lives and those of their loved ones. For many, the severity of the injury makes amputation inevitable.
“If you don't get an amputation when you should, your body ends up fighting a chronic infection like cancer.” said Herwig Drobetz, an MSF surgeon in the limb reconstruction unit at Al-Awda Hospital These patients look really sick. They are usually tired and malnourished. Once they are amputated, they are different people. They feel better, it's amazing how quickly they get better.”
But patients and their communities often view amputations as “failures.” Some people, especially young men, refuse the procedure and endure years of chronic pain, repeated operations, and reduced mobility in order to keep the impacted limb.
Duley understands this from personal experience. “As an amputee myself, I have had many conversations with people who are dealing with the idea of losing a limb and the psychological challenges that precede the surgery,” he said. “For young men, there are several reasons for this hesitation. Fear of not being able to work and provide for their families; stigma and perceived shame at this new body image. Patients have told me that they feel they are no longer ‘real men’ or that no one will like them. I understand these concerns. But if you put prejudice aside with the support of those around you, a normal life is entirely possible. We need to make these positive stories visible and fight the stigma.”