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It’s not often you see a truckload of prosthetic legs. But you may be surprised to know that this is often the scene found behind storeroom doors and waste bins of hospitals, medical centres and residential homes across the country. One charity saw the possibility in these piles of limbs and are raising funds to get African amputees back on their feet.
Creative minds see potential and possibility in the things that most people accept as status quo. So while EU law sees the thousands of used – or even just tried on – prosthetic limbs as waste, Tom Williams, founder of newly registered charity Legs 4 Africa, saw and thought differently. I caught up with the charity’s trustee and fundraising director, Phil Tunstall, to get the lowdown.
Backpacking around The Gambia, Tom met a local family, the father of which was an amputee. Over a conversation, Tom casually asked whether he’d ever thought of getting a prosthetic leg. He hadn’t, because it had never been offered to him – they just weren’t available.
Before returning to the UK, Tom measured up his friend’s leg. On landing back on British soil, he crowdsourced and successfully raised the funds to have a leg made and gifted to his friend. Along the way he saw the mammoth difference this single limb had made, but he also got a glimpse of those hidden storerooms and waste bins of hospitals, medical centres and residential homes, discovering the complex politics of prosthetics.
Here are some statistics to wrap your mind around:
UK – 6,000
Africa – Unknown
UK – 100 %
Africa – 2 %
In the UK we have a 100% healthcare access rate. In Africa, it’s a tragic 2%. In the UK there are around 6,000 yearly amputations, in Africa, this figure is unknown. And to add insult to injury, in the UK alone, around 15,000 prosthetic limbs are disposed of every year.
In the knowledge of this vast disparity, Tom knew something had to be done. “It was the only logical step as far as he could see,” says Phil, “to connect and make a change.” And so the not-for-profit charity, Legs 4 Africa, was born. A small team of limb hunting renegades, sticking one up to bureaucracy by scouring the country for unwanted prosthetics and delivering them to Africa. Where they are wanted and needed.
But what do people think of the work Legs 4 Africa is doing? “Everyone thinks it’s great,” says Phil. “The NHS hates to see prosthetics, that can cost up to £1000 to make, go to waste. People want to see them go where they’ll be appreciated.”
This positive response led to a successful fundraising mission and delivery of 500 prosthetics to The Gambia back in April, and now they’re at it again.
“Last time we came up against some difficulties,” Phil explains. “From tyre punctures to border control pay-offs, and just the length of time it took us, we got lumped with lots of unexpected costs. So now we’ve got a shipping container ready to fill with 1,000 legs.”
The team are well on their way to their 1,000 leg target, but if you happen to be in the know about the whereabouts of more prosthetics or wheelchairs, give them a shout. It’s the more the merrier in that container.
Q. If one shipping container costs £2,000 and carries 1,000 legs, how much will it cost you to get two African amputees back on their feet this Christmas?
To help Legs 4 Africa ship these limbs across to The Gambia, just text ‘legs444’ to 70070, to give £4. Or, check out the page on the new Penryn based crowdfunding platform, Made Open, to give a little more and get something in return – your name on the Continent of Leg’ends, for example.
It’s simple and resourceful. To the EU theses piles of prosthetics mean clogged up store rooms and disposal costs. To an amputee in Africa, it could mean the world.
Go on. It is Christmas after all.
Get in touch with Legs 4 Africa if you can think of any way of helping them on their mission, whether it’s donating money, organising a fundraising event or becoming a regular volunteer.