Iraq: outdoors in a wheelchair

06-01-2010 Feature

In Iraq thousands of people are maimed every year by a huge number of mine and other incidents. An orthopaedic centre operated by the ICRC in Erbil has been providing assistance to thousands of disabled people since 1996.

The centre provides prosthesis, orthosis and wheelchairs. Furthermore some of the disabled people receive support from an ICRC programme designed to enable them to start small businesses so that they can piece their lives back together.

One of the unique types of support the organization provides to the patients is the three-wheeled " outdoor activity chair " . Unlike the normal four-wheeled chairs provided by hospitals and used mainly used indoors, the three-wheeled chair enables its user to go outdoors and move about freely.

The three-wheeled chair has some special features, for example it can be adjusted according to the user’s size and need, does not cause bed sores, is easy for the user to handle and it is mainly used outdoors. So far Erbil orthopaedic centre is the only one in Iraq that supplies this type of wheelchair.

Nazar Hama Khan outside the Erbil orthopaedic centre in Iraq. 

Between 13 and 16 December 2009 the ICRC organized a workshop for three staff members from the health ministry’s orthopaedic centre in Najaf .The staff were trained in assembling and adjusting the wheelchairs and showing patients and their companions how to handle the wheelchairs. This was all part of a plan to extend the programme for the supply of three-wheeled chair to other parts of Iraq.

Nazar Hama Khan, 32, is one of the people who got a three-wheeled chair as well as assistance to carry out small businesses and regain economic self-sufficiency.

Nazar, who has five children, has been in a wheelchair since 1998 as a result of a spinal cord injury. In that time he has had to replace his ordinary hospital wheelchairs several times because he was not satisfied with them. He says, " The hospital wheelchairs are so bad they break down easily. This is particularly difficult when it happens, as it has on many occasions, when I am outside, far from my house. I have had to replace five of them myself at a cost of USD 120 each. "

Nazar is very happy with his new wheelchair, " I go everywhere and I have no problem in moving around, it does not break down or get stuck, " he says. Because he is a destitute head of a household, he was also selected to benefit from the ICRC’s programme designed to help beneficiaries piece their lives back together.

In April 2009 Nazar got financial assistance from the ICRC in order to start his business. " I sell mobile telepho ne cards, and with my three-wheeled chair I go everywhere in my neighbourhood, " says Nazar happily. " I earn between150 and USD 200 every month, which is not bad, " he adds.

Nazar has not worked at all during the last 11 years and has been depending on the support of his extended family. " I am very happy, first of all, that I can move around on my own and, secondly, that I can earn a monthly income for my family, " he concludes.

Despite his disability and years of pessimism, Nazar now sees the world differently. He is very kind and generous.

Erbil orthopaedic centre recently received spare parts for three-wheeled chairs. So if Nizar’s chair should break down, he need not worry about having to replace it, because it can be repaired.