AJMAN // A six-year-old boy has been blinded in one eye by hand sanitiser after reaching for a dispenser in a hospital corridor.
Yousef ben Lafi's mother took him to GMC Hospital in Ajman on June 17 to see a doctor about a cough.
"I was eating chips and asked my mother if I could use the sanitiser," said Yousef, whose family comes from Tunisia. "I pressed and it didn't come, so I pressed again and it came into my eye.
"It came out so fast and it hurt so much. It was burning. Then I couldn't see. I see everything white."
Seham Soule, Yousef's mother, said she was watching him and his five-month-old sister when he asked to use the sanitiser. She said she believed it would be safe to use.
"I took him for a cough and he lost an eye," said his mum, weeping in their darkened apartment where the curtains have been drawn to protect Yousef's eye from the sun.
"He told me he didn't want to go but I took him to be safe. There was no indication the product was dangerous or that there would be a problem for children.
"The doctors first said it was like shampoo and his sight will come back. I cry every day."
Yousef was rushed to GMC's ophthalmology department, but it was too late to repair the damage.
A medical report said the loss of vision was due to "an accidental chemical burn to his left eye caused by sanitiser [alcohol]". It described the emergency measures taken, and noted the antibiotics and lubricants prescribed.
Hospital officials said yesterday they were not responsible for the accident. They said the sanitiser met Ministry of Health guidelines and was placed at a height in corridors so children could not reach it.
When questioned about support that would be given to the family, GMC's media officer Tapash Lodh said treatment would be provided.
But Mr Lodh said: "We have CCTV footage showing the child was running around. The mother should have stopped him from reaching the sanitiser. This cannot be pinned and blamed on us as our mistake.
"But we cannot blame a small child and we don't let down our patients. We will put this to our board and we will go out of our way to give the child the best treatment. We will sort this out." Hospital officials were not able to provide details about the sanitiser's alcohol content but said they would consider putting up warning signs.
"These sanitisers are everywhere and we have it as per ministry requirements," said Dr Essam Atta, a GMC manager. "It has not harmed anyone before but now we will decide about putting up a caution sign."
Yousef's father Hisham, an account executive at a Dubai distribution company, said far stricter safeguards should be placed around the sanitiser pumps.
"Yes, my son is tall for six years, but if it happened to him it can happen to any child," he said. "I don't know what to do when my family cries."
A police case has been filed in Ajman and the hospital and the family have approached the Ministry of Health.
Yousef's parents have been told a stem-cell transplant overseas may restore his vision.
For now, the boy is left to wonder when he will be allowed to play outside again or whether his hopes of becoming a pilot are dashed.
"I cry at night, then I try not to because it hurts," he said. "I feel like a knife is in my head - there's too much pain. I like football, hide and seek and swimming but the sun hurts now. I want to play. I want to see like before."
Through his nightmares, Yousef has begun to find unique ways to deal with his pain.
"When I have bad dreams, I pretend that Superman comes and saves me," he said.