February 24, 2010 / 3:45 AM / 7 years ago

India's $40 limb puts amputees back on their feet

4 Min Read

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - When Bhoopnarayan Jha lost his leg in an accident, the government employee also lost his will to live, until he got a "Jaipur Foot."

Made from locally available and cheap materials, the rapid-fit, prosthetic limb is handed over for free to victims of road and rail accidents or land mine blasts, giving them, and thousands of others who can ill-afford a major injury or the costs of rehabilitation, a new lease on life.

The Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti organization, which makes the prosthetic, is based in the western desert state of Rajasthan and the foot is named after state capital Jaipur.

"I told my doctor, just kill me. Every time I saw my bandaged stump, I did not want to live," said 48-year-old Jha, who used to cycle 20 km (about 12 miles) to work every day.

"But I was up on my feet in an hour after strapping on the foot and in one month's time I could run and catch a bus."

The foot piece is made from rubber, the variety used in car tires, and is available in standard shoe sizes.

The core of the foot is made from a cheap local variety of wood that is used for packing cases. The light, water-proof socket that cradles the stump is made from a high density polyethylene, the component of common water tanks.

"It costs us around 1,750 rupees ($38) to make a Jaipur Foot for below-knee amputees and about 2,200 rupees ($48) for those that have had amputations above the knee," says V R Mehta, one of the directors of the Samiti organization.

"But we give it free to all patients irrespective of their financial status."

The Samiti has fitted over a million people around the world since its inception in 1975, also helping land mine victims from Kashmir and those who lost limbs in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.

The organization also gets orders from war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as quake-stricken Haiti, which are struggling with a large disabled population.

Back on Their Feet in No Time

From the time a patient walks in and is examined by professionals, it takes less than a day to manufacture a Jaipur Foot. Workers sit in open sheds around a table and work with basic machinery as amputees mill around watching them make their prosthetics from scratch.

"A patient comes in the morning and can walk out on his own two feet by evening, a thing unimaginable in any part of the Western world. He can run or climb trees in a month's time if he wants to," Mehta said.

The foot is customized to fit the needs of people from all professions.

Most amputees from far-flung rural areas in India are usually farmers who squat for hours in knee-deep muddy water in paddy fields so the organization devised a light, flexible and water-proof prosthetic that would allow them to carry on with their activities.

It's easy to see why the Jaipur Foot is seen as the perfect solution for amputees in developing and strife-torn countries, where erratic government funding and a huge caseload often pose a major problem in reaching aid to the disabled.

Cost is also a major issue.

"A high-end, cutting-edge prosthetic limb in the west would cost anywhere between $8,000 to $9,000, out of reach of the poor," Mehta said.

The organization is now in talks with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to upgrade its technology and to provide funding, but remains true to its mission of providing quick, quality prosthetics to the poor, free of charge.

Mehta said that some organizations in India and abroad have started copying the Jaipur Foot technology, but they are charging for it. "They pass off their own prosthetics as Jaipur Foot and charge patients for them, which is strictly against our principles," he added.

($1=46.25 Indian Rupee)

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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