Thai medical school trains Afghans to make artificial limbs

In a humanitarian endeavor to help the people of war-torn Afghanistan, Thailand’s premier medical school, Mahidol University, has trained nine Afghans in how to craft artificial limbs and other prosthetics for those wounded by landmines and other weaponry and plans to train more Afghans in the needed skills and techniques.

The special Prosthetics and Orthotics training program at Mahidol is being conducted in collaboration with Human Study e.V., a German non-profit organization, and the Physical Rehabilitation Program of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Mahidol’s Sirindhorn School of Prosthetics and Orthotics graduates 10 to 12 students with degrees in the field every year.

Thailand is no stranger to the need for prosthetics. Cambodia, which borders Thailand to the east, has been one of the most heavily mined countries in the world because of war, insurgencies and civil conflicts that began in the 1970s and only ended in recent years. Thailand sheltered hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cambodia for nearly two decades.

Now, Afghanistan has joined the ranks of the world’s most heavily mined countries because of the wars and civil conflicts that have raged there since 1979 and still continue.

About 1.5 percent of the world’s population is in need of prosthetic and orthotic services, according to the World Health Organization, but the percentage in Afghanistan is much higher because of its history of conflict. Accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, however, for the same reason. However, the ICRC estimates Afghanistan has 80,000 disabled people of whom 30,000 are amputees, and that 60 people a day are killed or wounded by landmines or unexploded ordinance.

“The limited number of specialized training institutions in Afghanistan able to provide training for prosthetic and orthotic professionals according to international standards, and enabling them to provide comprehensive quality services, makes the situation even more dramatic,’’ said Christian Schlierf, CEO of Human Study e.V, who attended the graduation ceremony for the nine Afghan students.

He said his organization and the ICRC decided three years ago that they needed to do something to fill the void for Afghans in need of prosthetics. They chose to support nine Afghans to study the field and selected Mahidol University as the best school for their education.

One of the new Afghan graduates, Mahpekay Sidiqy from Kabul, lost both her legs when she was a child after stepping on a landmine. She said the number of people with disabilities is growing every day because of war. She told the Bangkok Post newspaper that she hopes she can improve quality of life for people back home suffering from disabilities.