When Thai artificial limb technique reaches as far away land as Burundi

When Thai artificial limb technique reaches as far away land as Burundi (Reported By ASTV  Manager Online (22 October 2009)

Mr. Prakob Kaewma, age 40, the amputee who becomes a prostheses technician.Over the past 17 years, the Prostheses Foundation under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness the late Princess Mother (Sri Nagarindra) has provided free service in making artificial legs for poor and often disadvantaged handicaps who lost their legs regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion, in and across the borders of Thailand. 


 To date, the Prostheses Foundation has pursued its humanitarian task embedded in the commitment of Her Royal Highness the late Princess Mother to disseminate knowledge, technique, know-how and expertise to prostheses workers in the neighbouring countries via its annual projects.  The aim of these projects is to train the local people to produce good quality, suitable and comfortable artificial legs for the amputees, thus improving their life condition.  With these prosthetic legs, they can lead a normal life, being able to make a living and look after their families.

Associate Professor Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, Secretary – General of the Prostheses Foundation and the 2008 Magsaysay Awardee in Public Service informs us that, “At present, many countries show interests to participate in the prostheses training project.  

In response to their requests, the Foundation organizes a training course for the period of 3 months for the selected trainees, totally free of charge in addition to providing them with accommodation at the premises of the Foundation.  Once the trainees complete their course and are able to produce artificial legs by themselves, the foundation will extend its support for the setting up of a factory in their country as well as donating and installing all essential machines and equipments.  These machines and equipments are manufactured in Thailand at a much lower cost than those importing from Europe or America.  

Dr. Therdchai elaborates that, “Recently, I’ve been training 9 volunteers from Burundi, a country in East Africa.  These volunteers are war veterans.  They are disciplined, determined and hard- working trainees.  A lot of people suffered and lost their legs during the long civil war in Burundi where the majority of the population was very poor.  Hardly any organizations had the stamina to operate in Burundi under those circumstances.  It was Dr. Krisana Krasintu, the 2009 Magsaysay awardee, who discussed with me last year the possibility of organizing a training course for Burundians.  She was at the time implementing a Thai Government Project on the transfer of technology in the local production of antimalarial drugs in Burundi.  Dr. Krisana works in East and West African countries to increase access to life-saving drugs so that those countries can depend on themselves to treat their patients.  Training people to make artificial legs also shares that objective, to give amputees good artificial legs that assist them to rely on themselves.  

I believe that after the training, it is not difficult for these Burundian trainees to produce prosthetic legs provided that we help them with the initial capital to set up a factory and equip it with all the essential but inexpensive machines.  Moreover, they can use recycled materials, for examples, sand and aluminium to make prosthetic parts.   Thus, it is not a dream for a poor country to have a small factory that produces artificial legs.”

The prostheses training for Burundians comes under the framework of Thai and Burundian technical cooperation, with the financial assistance ( the amount of 100,000  baht) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.  Up until now, the Foundation through its mobile workshop, has transferred the technology and trained volunteers in Indonesia and Laos, the methods of production of artificial legs in order to make them on the spot for the amputees.

While other countries still use the old technique, we teach the new technique which involves making the containment socket from the sand model.  The new above-the-knee prosthesis resembles the same kind made in Western countries which does not require sponge to cover it and the core of the shin is made of plastic, covered with a leg made of hard foam and coated inclusion.  The materials are light-weight and quick to make.  More importantly, the Foundation produces this artificial leg ten times cheaper than in other countries.  It costs around 20,000 baht per limb compared with 200,000 baht in Malaysia.

Associate Professor Dr. Therdchai Jivacate, Secretary-General of the Prostheses Foundation under the patronage of Her Royal Highness the late Princess Mother and the 2008 Magsaysay awardee, giving a lecture to an interested audience.

Associate Professor Dr. Therdchai relates the causes for 60,000 amputees in Thailand and increasing to accidents, especially motorcycle accidents and to diabetes.  The main causes of amputees differ from one country to another.  For examples, 80% of amputations in Malaysia are caused by diabetes, the majority of amputee cases in America are the result of artery blockage while in Africa and Cambodia, war features as the main reason. Since 1991, the mobile workshop of the Prostheses Foundation has made 20,632 artificial legs for amputees. Despite owning 60 factories all over Thailand, the Foundation still cannot supply adequate artificial legs to meet the demand in the country.  

Mr. Prakob Kaewma, age 40, the amputee who becomes a prostheses technician and the trainer of the trainees, started working at the Foundation in 2007. He is proud to work there, having been asked by Dr. Therdchai if he wanted to help others like him.  He responded wholeheartedly and learned a great deal from Dr. Therdchai who taught and guided him with kindness.  Prakob learned both the theory and the practice for 3 – 4 months, then gradually improved his skills. With regard to training the Burundian volunteers, Prokob communicates in English with the team leader who translates to his colleagues in French.  

Demonstration of the methods to make hip prostheses.

Prakob recalls the accident 13 years ago when the motorcycle he drove collided with a pick-up truck.  He lost his leg as a result of that event.  He felt hopeless and helpless because he could not do the labour work or went into the forest to gather wood and food like he used to do.  His parents and colleagues gave him the encouragement to carry on with his life and he went to get the service of an artificial leg at the hospital.  At that time, he had to wait for 3 – 4 months and did not understand why it took so long.  Now as the prostheses technician, he knows that the methods and techniques are delicate and take time to master.

“If you live in a countryside, it is very difficult and takes a long time to get an artificial leg because you have to go for several appointments with the doctor for him to inspect your leg, make the mould and socket, try to walk with it and make different adjustments to make sure that it does not hurt when you walk.  Once, you feel comfortable using it, there is a process to make the leg look beautiful and natural.  When an amputee asks me how long it will take for him to get the artificial leg, I would explain to him and tell him not to worry and take it easy because I understand his agitation and worry.”


The prostheses technician is training a Burundian volunteer.

Prakob explains that the Prostheses Foundation in Chiang Mai has 12 prostheses technicians and can make below-the-knee artificial leg for an amputee within one day while it takes three days for above-the-knee prostheses.  The Foundation will transport those amputees who wait to receive their legs and cannot return home by themselves, to their homes.

Thawan Arthit shows an undecorated prosthetic leg.

Thawan Arthit, a Chiang Mai local, age 57, is another prostheses technician who has worked at the Foundation for over 3 years. Thawan told us that he lost his leg from above the knee in 1975 while he was a border patrol policeman.  He continued to work for the police force but in the administrative affairs before taking an early retirement.  He got bored after staying at home for a while and felt that he still could do good deeds and help other less fortunate people for the remaining of his life, so he decided to volunteer at the Prostheses Foundation and later trained to become a prostheses technician.

Thawan takes pride in his work, “Here at the Prostheses Foundation, we can produce a maximum of 17 legs in one day.  On average, we make 4 – 5 artificial legs per day.  Amputees all over Thailand come to Chiang Mai to get their legs because they do not have to wait as long as at the hospital and it is free of charge.”

This article is from http://www.manager.co.th/QOL/ViewNews.aspx?NewsID=9520000125533
Translated by a voluntary oversea fan club of Dr.Krisana


Bibliography in English

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