Mobility shop brings hope to Afghan amputees
February 16, 2012
ZHARAY DISTRICT, KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan has one of the highest amputee populations in the world, and with an estimated 10 million active mines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance still scattered throughout the country, the threat to the Afghan people is extremely high.
Many organizations have tried to assist in removing the landmines and unexploded ordnance, but due to 30-plus years of war, Afghanistan is still littered with dangerous explosives that civilians fall victim to on a regular basis.
Soldiers in 3rd Brigade Combat Team (Task Force Spartan) have been working hard for the past 11 months in Kandahar Province to assist local people who have suffered a traumatic amputation.
"(The Afghans) really don't have the capacity to take care of them," said Maj. (Dr.) Brian Egloff, brigade surgeon. "There is a prosthetics lab that is run by Handicap International in Kandahar City, but they have anywhere from a six- to a nine-month wait."
Handicap International is an independent humanitarian aid organization that works with disabled people in underprivileged countries around the globe. The organization has been working in Afghanistan since the 1980s. While the organization increased its efforts in Afghanistan after the events of 2001, it has not been able to effectively help all of the amputees in the country, due to security concerns.
In response to the tremendous need in Kandahar Province, Spartan Soldiers tried to acquire prosthetic limbs for local amputees through several different organizations around the world. It quickly became apparent that the Spartans would have to operate on their own. So, they formulated a plan to produce temporary prosthetic limbs and distribute wheelchairs and crutches to those in need.
"The first phase was to design the limb; the second phase was to prove that the leg can be used on an actual patient," Egloff said. "The next step was to see if we could get a welder in the bazaar combined with some amputees that we found through an Afghan organization called the Afghan Disabled Rehab Association."
ADRA was established in June 2005 to assist disabled citizens and increase awareness of the mines and IEDs that threaten the country. Since the organization was founded by local Afghans, more than 3,000 disabled individuals in Kandahar City and several districts across Afghanistan have registered with the organization to receive assistance.
Spartan Soldiers partnered with the ADRA and worked diligently to reach the many amputees in the area who still need assistance. The brigade, ADRA workers and local Afghan welders worked to open a new mobility shop Feb. 9 in the Pasab bazaar located near Forward Operating Base Pasab. The shop's mission is to provide local amputees with mobility aids.
"The shop has humanitarian aid, so it is free to its customers," Egloff said. "There were actually people who had a need. We gave out a few wheelchairs; we gave out some crutches to the people (who) were there that needed them."
The new mobility shop will continue to have the Spartan Brigade's assistance for the remainder of their deployment to the Zharay and Maiwand districts of Kandahar Province. Ultimately, the goal is getting the shop to function independently, manufacturing temporary prosthetics and wheelchairs to distribute to people in need, until they can receive professionally manufactured limbs from Kandahar City. By getting amputees used to the temporary limbs, their rehabilitation process will be expedited when they finally receive professional prosthetics.
"We're not there yet, but hopefully we can get to the point where they can manufacture these temporary limbs until they can get to a commercially manufactured place," Egloff said. "I think it raises awareness to the problem in this area, and maybe this isn't the solution, but maybe this is part of the interim solution that will lead to a more permanent solution in this area. That's the goal."
The landmine threat is still very real and the Afghan people are still suffering, but Spartan Soldiers and humanitarian organizations are improving the situation daily with their hard work and sacrifice.