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Foot soldiers of Jaipur

Foot soldiers of Jaipur

Author: Rohit Parihar
Publication: India Today
Date: February 25, 2008
URL: http://indiatoday.digitaltoday.in/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=1&task=view&id=4605&sectionid=24&issueid=41&latn=2

Introduction: An organization working for the handicapped takes the science of artificial limbs forward

It is probably the only city in the world to have lent its name to a prosthetic, but now limbs other than foot-like a Jaipur knee or wheelchair-may soon be associated with the pink city.

The leader of the team that invented the Jaipur foot, Dr P.K. Sethi, died recently but the organisation which helped make it a reality, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti, is still working to take this legacy forward.

The Samiti, founded in 1975 by retired IAS officer D.R. Mehta runs institutes in its endeavour to provide low-cost limbs and tools to the physically challenged.

In January, Steve Goldband, director of private sector initiatives, Centre on Longevity, Stanford University, US, visited the Samiti to assess its functioning. Also on the agenda was development of low-cost above-knee limb replacement. "Our major challenge is to create a cheaper version of an above-knee limb," says Goldband.

Work on this project is proceeding at a brisk pace. The needy will be identified in Jaipur through video conferencing and trials of the prototype will take place here. "It may turn out to be as revolutionary as the invention of the Jaipur foot," says Mehta.

In what could be a major diversification project for the Samiti, production of low-cost, high quality wheelchairs is also set to begin soon in collaboration with Whirlwind Wheelchair International, US, a non-profit organisation.

The initial numbers to be produced, within a year if everything goes on schedule, are slated to be 500 chairs a month. The Samiti will donate 150 chairs to Iraq through the Joint Iraqi Development and Unity Foundation which provides chairs for exports.

At present the Samiti procures and donates 100 wheelchairs every month. Mehta says last year the organisation donated 20,000 limbs compared to 8,800 by an international agency like the Red Cross.

Besides providing the Jaipur foot and wheelchairs, the Samiti caters to the needs of the handicapped by giving them calipers and hearing aids also.

As the number of the Samiti's beneficiaries crosses a million mark, a retired Mehta-who also headed the Securities and Exchange Board of India- has reason to smile. Having been conferred the Padma Vibhushan on Republic Day this year, Mehta says "it is crucial for us to move ahead and tie up with the best in the world to improve upon technology."

He nearly lost a limb in an accident in Jaisalmer decades ago. But that miraculous escape seems to have become a source of inspiration for him to do the same for others.

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