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ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled: teaching does the most good

21-11-2007 Feature

Jacques Forget is one of five ortho-prosthetists with the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled based in Addis-Ababa, who provide training and other support to rehabilitation centres in 17 African countries. He feels teaching provides the greatest impact in his line of work.

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
Jacques Forget of the ICRC affiliated Special Fund for the Disabled verifies the fit of an artificial leg being prepared for a young child at the Kikuyu Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Centre near Nairobi.    
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
Jacques Forget and Bonface Omondi examine a prothesis being prepared at the Kikuyu Centre.    

" I feel my contribution has a greater impact here, than in my former practice at home, " says Jacques Forget, an Ortho- Prosthetist with the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled. " Because of the difference in the quality of life for patients here and because I am teaching and training others, it makes a huge difference in the lives of a large number of people. "

Forget assists local centres in Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Morocco.

The Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD) was created in 1983 to ensure the continuity of ICRC programmes on behalf of people disabled by conflicts and to support physical rehabilitation centres in developing countries.

Although it is an independent organization with its own budget, the SFD receives logistical and administrative support from the ICRC. The SFD operates similar regional offices in Latin America and Asia.

 Short-term frustration, long-term benefits  

" Working as a trainer allows me to help more people, " says Forget, " it can be frustrating, and sometimes it would be easier just to do it myself. There is not the same instant reward as when you are working directly with a patient. But, if you invest the time and keep on insisting, it eventually pays off and makes a difference. "

" I have been coming to the Kikuyu Rehabilitation Centre near Nairobi for about two years now, and I can see the difference, " he says. " The protheses and orthoses are more resistant and better conceived. "  

" An artificial l imb is not natural, the patient will never be totally comfortable, " Forget explains, " but we have to try to make them as comfortable as possible. It’s a mixture of art and science, " he adds. Some patients at the Kikuyu Rehabilitation Centre have undergone amputations because of accidents, others are afflicted by polio or congenital diseases.

Forget tries to make at least two trips of two weeks each per year to the centres he supports. In addition, the technologists from the centres can attend up to five different specialized courses of one month's duration at the SFD's regional base in Addis. 

The SFD also has a physiotherapist based in Addis, who trains African physiotherapists to work with amputees. She has visited the Kikuyu centre twice in the last five months. The SFD has also provided the centre with material assistance and specialized equipment.

 International experience  

Bonface Omondi is a 26-year-old ortho-prosthetist who has been working at the Kikuyu centre for the past two years. A graduate of the Kenya Medical training centre, he says the FSD's international experience allows its specialists to teach a variety of approaches to different situations.

In March of 2007 he went to the SFD regional training unit in Addis for a course on lower-limb prostheses. He has also worked with Jacques Forget twice at the Kikuyu Centre. " Jacques'visits help me improve my skills, in particular in casting and cast modification. His teaching has made a big difference. "

" People come here in wheelchairs and we enable them to walk again, " concludes Omondi. " Its almost a miracle, that's why this work is so important. I feel happy helping people to walk again. "