Myanmar: Repair of prostheses close to home brings hope

24 March 2017
Myanmar: Repair of prostheses close to home brings hope
CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Minzayar Oo

More flexible physical rehabilitation services allow patients to gain time and save money.

For nearly three years, the Myanmar Red Cross has been making a difference in the lives of persons with disabilities through mobile clinics that roam local communities. From July 2014 to December 2016, a total of 1,280 patients from East Bago received services. In a vast country such as Myanmar facilitating these types of services closer to home saves people time and money, while giving them critical support to improve their prostheses.

It is early on a Tuesday morning at the hospital compound in Shwe Kyin, East Bago. A group of people with protheses wait patiently for the Myanmar Red Cross' mobile repair team. This region of Myanmar is one of those most heavily affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war. Zaw Win, a gold catcher of 59 years, arrived early. He stands with the others at the entrance wearing a dusty, green tee shirt.. He looks tired, but his eyes are bright with hope. Zaw Win lost one of his legs in 2000, when he stepped on a mine while working in his field.

Three dusty land cruisers, one of them carrying wheelchairs, drive into the compound. Technicians start to install their workshop material in front of one of the vehicles. They repair the prostheses of patients like Zaw Win who live in remote regions. In a few minutes, patient take seats and wait for their turn to get welding and repair services for their prostheses, foot straps, wheelchairs and other walking aids. The Myanmar Red Cross conducts the work with both the technical and financial support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who have experience around the world in physical rehabilitation.

CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Minzayar Oo

"This makes our lives easier," explains Zaw Win, as his prosthetic leg is repaired . "I don't need to take time off of work. I just go to the gathering place and get the required services, and it only takes about an hour," he says.

Zaw Win has worked as a "gold catcher" since he was 18 years old. He explains patiently how he puts the mud from the ground into the bowl, separates the gold from the mud, and then sells it to merchants. To perform his job, he needs to rest on his legs, and has to work while both standing as well as sitting.

"I live from hand to mouth, surviving on a daily wages labour job. I cannot work without my legs. I also need to get maintenance or repair services every year. To keep our prostheses in a good state is our only hope to survive for our living," he said.

Zaw Win got his first prostheses from the Myanmar Red Cross Hpa-an Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Centre (HORC), which is supported by the ICRC. He has been there three times, but he also appreciates not having to travel a far distance. "The travelling costs were high and the trip was time consuming. It took at least three to four days to get the job done. Getting a mobile repair service close to my home means a lot to me," he said.

Within one year of the Myanmar Red Cross and the ICRC opening the mobile repair workshops, a network of repairmen such as owners of bike or motorbike shops, come to occasionally provide a basic repair such as fixing a foot, or a strap.

"The Red Cross aims to invest in the local community for the long term. There was no school in Myanmar for prosthetic technicians until 2015. We sent students to Cambodia to study. There are now 15 graduated professionals in Myanmar. It is still far below the 300 technicians needed, but we are glad to support the process as it begins," explains Didier Reck, head of the ICRC physical rehabilitation programme in Myanmar.

Zaw Win's prostheses has been repaired. The gold catcher can now return to his village. Happy, his thoughts are focused on the dreams he had before he lost his legs. He would like to stop catching gold and start farming. Zaw Win has already bought three acres of land last year to cultivate lime and lemon. Saving money and having mobility allows him to slowly but surely realise this dream.