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Artificial limbs are recycled to give new lease of life to amputees in Africa

Doctors donate prostheses to charity

Amputees living in Africa will have the chance to live more independently thanks to the donation of recycled prosthetic limbs and other equipment from Swansea Bay University Health Board.

Legs4Africa is to repurpose and distribute hundreds of components and prostheses it has received from the Artificial Limb and Appliance Service (ALAS), based in the Specialist Rehabilitation Centre at Morriston Hospital, which will help people who would otherwise not be able to afford a prostheses.

The move also prevents the used prosthetic limbs from going to landfill – or filling up storage space at the Centre. Every patient who donated a prostheses had already received a replacement.

Advanced prosthetist Paul Drayton said: “Historically we would have disposed of prostheses rendered unsuitable over the course of time and outside their warranty by either sending them off as general waste to landfill  or by being recycled back to their raw materials.

“Therefore, rather than scrapping these prosthetic limbs completely, some of the component parts could be useful in the construction or assembly of prostheses for patients in developing countries.

“The limb components will be intensively decontaminated and also reassessed for mechanical integrity by Legs4Africa before they are shipped to Africa. Once received there they can be used to assemble new complete limbs for the many amputees in poverty there who are in dire need of mobility.”

Legs4Africa was founded 10 years ago by former photographer Tom Williams.

He visited ALAS to collect the donation of dozens of limbs and components, such as prosthetic knee joints.

He said: “I was visiting Gambia and spent time with a family whose father had lost a leg through diabetes.

“I was given measurements for his stump and told him when I got back to the UK I would see what I could do to help him. When I returned I met a prosthetist who kindly agreed to build a leg in his own time at cost price. I didn’t tell the family I had been lucky in getting a leg for the father, and I took it back to surprise him.

“It was a random act of kindness, but until I saw the guy receive it I did not realise what it represented. It took the burden away from the family and he could get back into work.

“The inspiration is what led to the setting-up of Legs4Africa.”


Left: Prosthetic manager Peter McCarthy & Tom Williams of Legs4Africa 

The charity aims to provide affordable rehabilitation for amputees across Africa, to enable them to live independently through the provision of prosthetic limbs along with physical and emotional rehabilitation.

They are provided to people who have lost limbs through health issues such as diabetes, disease or war and is now partnered with 10 mobility centres across seven countries.

“We ensure each centre has the expertise and the resources needed to utilise the parts we send,” said Tom.

“Once the parts arrive, prosthetists at the centres use them to build or repair prosthetic limbs for people who otherwise may never walk again.

“Boxes of prosthetic leg parts and other materials like stump socks are then delivered by door-to-door courier services, which allows us to get limbs out to even the most remote areas and the most marginalised communities.

“There are a lot of amputees and we have also supported them in coming together through advocacy groups, which can help them with things like emotional support and with peer counselling.”

Medical devices given to patients through ALAS, including those manufactured in-house, have to be managed throughout their life cycle, from their design to their disposal. The service recently received certification enabling the former protheses to be safely donated to the charity.

Regulatory and Compliance Manager Dr Rebecca Nix said: “In March we received certification of their newly implemented quality management system which provides assurance to SBUHB patients of safe design, manufacture and provision of limbs and accessories from the ALAS service, as well as assurance to the health board of ALAS’s compliance to evolving medical devices regulations.”  

Main image: Naomi Bowey and Tom Williams of Legs4Africa, with Peter McCarthy and Paul Drayton of ALAS



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