SEATTLE, Washington — Around the globe, prosthetic devices enable amputees to confront the physical, social and emotional challenges of daily life. There is a particular demand for prosthetic care in developing countries, where amputees rely on prosthetic limbs to survive in under-resourced economies and healthcare systems. Unfortunately, this need often goes unmet due to challenges with infrastructure and technology as well as the lack of organizations for prosthetic care. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 5% of the 40 million amputees in developing countries have access to the prosthetic care they need. As the number of amputees only increases in these countries, advocates from all corners of the globe have instigated a call to action to work toward providing prosthetic services and changing the lives of amputees in the developing world.
Organizations for Prosthetic Care in Developing Countries
- Exceed Worldwide: Dedicated to cultivating world-class clinical facilities for the world’s poor, Exceed Worldwide and partners have founded schools for prosthetics and orthotics in five different countries throughout Asia, such as Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. The organization also engages in advocacy work, educating community leaders about the needs of disabled children and adults. In addition, Exceed performs research to support the advancement of disabled people in the workplace, offers community-based rehabilitation and supports programming for the equitable distribution of prosthetic services.
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): The ICRC aims to support prosthetic care in developing countries by funding materials for the production of prosthetic devices. The organization also provides training and salaries for local healthcare workers. Just last year, 353 patients received a prosthetic limb from the ICRC at ANRAC rehabilitation center in the Central African Republic (CAR). At this treatment center, patients can receive consultations and try on prosthetic limbs at the front of the building, while technicians fashion prosthetic limbs with saws and hammers in the back. Godefroy Bombaida, director of the facility, reports that the center is busier than it has ever been. Though ANRAC remains the only prosthetic facility in CAR, the ICRC hopes to help the center expand and institute others like it throughout the nation.
- Legs4Africa: Legs4Africa maintains a joint focus on sustainability and prosthetic care in developing countries. The organization first collects unneeded prosthetic legs from hospitals, funeral homes and independent donors. Volunteers then deliver the recycled limbs to amputees in Africa. This innovative approach prevents equipment from going to waste in the landfill and at the same time, helps amputees live independently. After delivering the collected limbs, Legs4Africa continues to further its mission. On-site experts customize the legs for each amputee and help the patients learn how to walk again. Counselors also offer support for the emotional trauma of limb loss. Finally, the organization gathers feedback from treatment centers and beneficiaries before returning home to collect more prosthetic limbs.
- Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Organization (COPE): COPE is a nonprofit organization working to ensure that all disabled people in Laos attain access to quality rehabilitation services. USAID funds training for medical staff and has facilitated the opening of prosthetic treatment centers in five different Lao provinces. Patients who are unable to afford the cost of physical and occupational therapy receive these services free of charge. Improving communication remains a top priority for the organization. Many patients in remote villages are unaware of the prosthetic options available to them and do not seek treatment. With assistance from USAID, COPE intends to raise awareness about prosthetic treatment options in rural communities and increase patient referrals within the Lao Government health system.
- The Range of Motion Project (ROMP): In Guatemala and Ecuador, ROMP is one of the organizations for prosthetic care that refurbishes old prosthetic limbs, purchases new equipment and even invents new components for amputees. In addition to clinical care, the organization also emphasizes investment in local health facilities and helping patients reimagine possibilities for the future. ROMP is currently working to provide patients with myoelectric prosthetic hands. Myoelectric hands read muscle activity using sensors beneath the skin and thus allow for an easier, more intuitive transition to life with a prosthetic limb. Although each hand can cost over $40,000, ROMP hopes to reduce the price tag and ultimately, make the device accessible to all patients living in poverty.
Though the fight is far from over, these organizations have all helped expand the presence of prosthetic care in developing countries. Each maintains a firm commitment to upholding the dignity and independence of every disabled patient, all while embracing new technology and proposing innovative solutions. The important work of the organizations continues to support the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable among us. As Legs4Africa prosthetist Gabu Jarjue puts it, “Giving someone a prosthetic leg is like giving someone their life back again.”
– Katie Painter