Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE prosthetics and orthotics industry’s future in Zimbabwe is bleak as it is facing a myriad of challenges especially in the procurement of artificial limbs and accessories, an expert has said.
Mr Dawood Cassim, the first non-white orthotics and prosthetics technician from Bulawayo said the industry was virtually on its knees as it requires a lot of money.
“Finances are a challenge, we want to offer people in Bulawayo and the Matabeleland region in general good products but we fail sometimes because we have limited funding as our products require a lot of money,” he said.
Mr Cassim said they were procuring artificial limbs and accessories from Germany which has the best and most durable limbs but they come at a price.
“We import all out products from Germany because they offer the best in terms of artificial limbs. These are very costly but they are the best, they are durable,” he said.
Mr Cassim said no company was manufacturing artificial limbs locally because of low demand.
“There are no industries that deal with prosthetics locally so we are forced to import. The industry is rather small so running a whole company for a few customers will not make economic sense,” he said.
In rural areas, he said, they were forced to offer people peg legs which they said are affordable but not comfortable.
A peg leg is a prosthesis, or artificial limb, fitted to the remaining stump of a human leg. Its use dates to antiquity.
“We have to give peg legs to people in rural settings or those that cannot afford because a proper leg is expensive. It is not by design that we give people peg legs but they cannot afford to order advanced limbs,” he added.
Those that can afford, however, are given the limbs from Germany.
He said limbs from below the knee start at US$960, above the knee US$2 350 and a set or arms cost about US$4 500.
Mr Cassim lamented that some medical insurances were paying late for patients in need of artificial limbs.
In the past, the Ministry of Health and Child Care used to subsidise limbs for the underprivileged people.
“Operating costs are high and business is low, it strains the company such that we find ourselves failing to pay workers on time.”
With the help of some non-governmental organisations, Mr Cassim added that his company has also helped people in Nyamapanda and Mozambique refugee camps who were affected by landmines. His desire is to train young technicians in the field of prosthetics so that the industry will not die.
“I would love to train the young people in this area so that a legacy lives on. If such industries close down, the people will suffer. The Government has opened one orthopedic centre but it still is not enough. We need to train many young people who will carry forward the trade.”
Having spent 52 years in the field of orthotics and prosthetics, Mr Cassim said it was also essential for Government to employ people who have been beneficiaries of artificial limbs as they can relate to the plight of those that are in need of the service.
Mr Cassim also made an appeal for funding to buy back and foot braces for about 60 children in Bulawayo who have cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth. Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or pre-school years.
In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with abnormal reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteady walking, or some combination of these.
He said families usually give up on children with this condition and they are neglected although there is a chance for those affected to lead a normal life if supported.
Mr Cassim said there were many health disorders that come from children with what are called flat foot disorders that they end up dealing with.
He said parents and guardians should observe children who have a fallen arch. This, he said, can cause future problems that will result in the child having spinal problems if not treated early.
“People with a flat foot only need an arch support which costs less than US$50 if diagnosed early but failure to notice leads to spinal problems that may be expensive to correct. So people should not ignore some abnormalities.
“Some people also have legs that are not the same length so they walk with a limp and this causes spinal problems in the long run,” he said.
Cassims Prosthetics started operating in Bulawayo in 1982 and has a branch in Harare.