Functional and comfortable prosthetics for amputees are often a privilege only those in the western world can afford, despite the fact that the rates of limbs lost is much higher in developing countries.
Trauma from motorbike accidents and unexploded IEDs are some of the leading causes of lost limbs in the developing world as well as infections and uncontrolled diabetes.
The loss of a leg can lead to unemployment which is fatal for poor families whose breadwinner is likely to work in farming or construction where two legs are very much needed.
Ed Pennington-Ridge is a UK inventor who has created a high-tech, low-cost prosthetic foot specifically designed for amputees in the developing world. It only costs £100 ($126), while a typical prosthetic limb in the developing world can cost up to $1,875 – more than five times the typical annual salary for a family living in a rural area.
“These are young soldiers, young guys getting knocked of mopeds — so when you fit them with a prosthesis they want to go back to their high activity lifestyles,” Pennington-Ridge told the BBC.
His simple design improves mobility using a springy foot and mobile ankle and is a huge improvement on the very basic prosthetics often used in the developing world.
BBC journalist Stuart Hughes testing Ed’s prosthetic
To be rolled out widely in the developing world, it has to be something that is easy to produce and mend at a low price and the materials must last a long time in high temperatures.
“One thing that I know for sure is that in a generalised developing world workshop you are going to be able to make this technology,” Pennington-Ridge asserted.
Last year the prosthesis was trialled by amputee patients in Tanzania. One of the first to try it was a Maasai cattle handler. The work of Maasai requires walking for miles on unsteady terrain in very harsh environments.
“This guy was very happy with his foot,” stated Longini Mtalo, the doctor who prescribed Pennington-Ridge’s prosthetic. “He reported much more freedom of movement wherever he went with his cattle.”
In reference to the cost, Mtalo said, “I think it will be much more affordable for these people.”
The prosthesis was also tested by BBC journalist Stuart Hughes who reported that it did not feel “a million miles away from my leg. It’s responsive and comfortable and I think I could wear it all day.”
Pennington-Ridge’s prosthetic foot has recently received more modifications and is due for more trials.