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Jaipur Artificial Foot Brings Hope to Afghans - 2002-02-22

For thousands of Afghans, no news is more welcome than the arrival of the so-called Jaipur foot, an artificial, below the knee limb that allows amputees to walk again, work and climb.

On benches outside a modest cluster of sheds in the city of Jaipur, dozens of amputees patiently wait their turn to be measured or fitted for an artificial limb.

This is no ordinary prosthesis, but one specially designed for people of the region. It is a rubber foot placed around a hinged wooden ankle that is wrapped in flesh-colored rubber similar to a bicycle inner tube. It provides flexibility for squatting to work in the fields or sitting cross-legged on the floor at home.

The Jaipur foot is culture specific, says one of its inventors, Dr. Pramod Karan Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon.

"It also gave us other advantages, which we initially did not plan," he said. "For instance, a farmer could walk on uneven ground in the villages. Because it was waterproof, they can work in paddy fields with their feet immersed in water the whole day. You cannot wear Oxford shoes and go and work like an Indian farmer."

Word of its success has spread. At the workshop in Jaipur, Purushottam Purohit is about to be measured for a foot. He lost his own in a factory accident.

"The Jaipur foot is popular all over India and all over the world," he said. "I heard about it and decided to come here. I had a different artificial limb that began to hurt. I am confident I will no longer have a problem."

The Jaipur workshop is also confident. S. R. Mehta, a metallurgical engineer who supervises it, says the new foot renews life for people and creates goodwill for India as well.

"When these amputees come here, you see they are so depressed, as if not interested in this world," he said. "But once we fit the limb and they go from this place, you see the smile on their face, and they change. You can say this is a reward for us."

The greatest need is now in Afghanistan, where landmines continue to destroy limbs. The workshop sends out teams to Afghanistan to supply the foot on the spot. It is also training Afghans and people in several other countries to make the foot, a fairly simple and inexpensive operation that takes 45 minutes. The foot lasts for more than five years.

Dr. Sethi says he relies on India's large supply of unschooled but talented craftsmen to maintain the quality of the Jaipur foot. It has broader implications for the society. It lets amputees remain on the land.

"But if they wear a western limb, they cannot use it in the village," he said. "So they migrate to the urban areas, go the ministry of welfare and ask for a sedentary job. They are uprooted from family and friends, and it leads to a lot of alienation. But here you are going back to your own environment and roots."

Sam Chandra, an unschooled craftsman, got the idea for the foot from the rubber inner tube of a bicycle tire. What works for a bike, he thought, may work for a human. At 82, he is still striving to improve the foot and make it as light as possible. "I am just an artisan," he says. Indeed.