LONDON -- Malala Yousafzai, the teenage education-rights campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan, has been able to stand for the first time since the attack and is communicating by writing, a British hospital official said Friday.
But the 14-year-old whose plight has aroused international concern is still fighting an infection caused by the bullet that entered her skull, burrowed through her jaw and lodged in her shoulder blade, said David Rosser, medical director at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in central England. Malala was flown to the hospital this week to receive treatment.
Rosser said she continued to show signs of improvement since waking from a long anesthesia.
"One of the first things she asked the nurses was what country she was in," he told reporters, adding: "She's closer to the edge of the woods, but she's not out of the woods."
The teenager was shot in a school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she had risen to prominence by courageously advocating the right to education for girls despite the fanatical Taliban's sway over the region. The Taliban has vowed to finish her off, prompting tight security at the Birmingham hospital.
But far from quashing Malala's cause, the attack sparked huge rallies across Pakistan and the rest of the world on her behalf. Rosser said she was "keen to thank people" for their outpouring of support and wanted the world to be kept apprised of her condition.
He said that scans had shown some damage to her brain, which was grazed by the bullet. But encouragingly, "at this stage we're not seeing any deficit in terms of function. She seems to be able to understand; she has some memory. ... She's able to stand. She's got motor control, so she's able to write."
Malala appears to have some recall of the attack, but those around her are refraining from bringing up the topic, Rosser said.
"From a lot of the work we've done with our military casualties, we know that reminding people of traumatic events at this stage increases the potential for psychological problems later," he said.
A tube in her trachea makes it impossible for her to speak, but the hospital is trying to arrange for her to listen to her father on the phone. Her family remains in Pakistan; efforts are underway to bring them to Britain to be at her bedside.
Rosser said the girl would require a couple of weeks of recuperation before surgeons try to reconstruct the damaged part of her skull and possibly her jaw.
"It would be over-optimistic to say that there are not going to be further problems," Rosser said. "But it is possible she’ll make a full recovery."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Women in the British city of Birmingham hold a vigil Thursday for wounded Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who is receiving treatment at a hospital in the city. Credit: Gavin Fogg / AFP/Getty Images