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Monday, January 10, 2011

Prosthetics in India

Today we are focusing on amazing organization in India, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) or the Jaipur Foot Organization. They are the largest organization working to fit those who have been handicapped with artificial limbs and calipers. The organization focuses on providing "all the artificial limbs, calipers, crutches, ambulatory aids like wheelchairs, hand paddled tricycles and other aids and appliances totally free of charge to the physically challenged." The average cost of a limb is $35, compared to the $8,000 in cost in the USA (according to the BMVSS website). This organization fits over 17,000 - 20,000 artificial limbs a year; they have sixteen branches and run over 40 mobile fitment camps to reach the disadvantaged in the distant areas of India, as well as running some programs in Asia and Africa.

While this work is extremely valuable, I think it is more their social outlook and policies that I approve of and really value.  "The first and the foremost concern of BMVSS is that the dignity and self respect of the patients must be maintained and if possible enhanced:
  • FREE ASSISTANCE:- The assistance in form of limbs, Calipers, and other aids & appliances are being given totally FREE OF CHARGE. At times we face criticism for pursuing this policy. The argument is that if any assistance is given free it is not appreciated, but our situation is that almost 90% of our patients are below poverty line and cannot even pay 5% of our cost of appliances incurred by us. By insisting the payment of even US$ 2 or Rs. 80/- from the patients would literally tantamount to their being told that since they do not have even this small amount they must get out. BMVSS being a social organization cannot subscribe to or become a part of such an in-compassionate system. For BMVSS money is not the measure of everything.
  • HELP NOT CHARITY:- while the assistance is being given free it is ensured that BMVSS, its donors and its beneficiaries recognize such assistance as help and not Charity. Psychologically it is recognized that assistance given as charity demeans both the giver and the taker. The recipient particularly looses his self-respect. The constant effort of BMVSS is that the support given is treated as one provided to a brethren rather than a charity to a poor person.
  • EQUALITY:- The assistance is being provided without any distinction of  caste, creed, religion or region. Among our other beneficiaries are Hindus (including Scheduled Castes and Tribes), Muslims Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. Handicapped persons from all parts of the country visit our centers. Our centers at Jaipur and other places have been described as ‘mini-India’ with all its diversity and underlying unity.
  • PROPER TREATMENT - Patients are treated with respect as human beings. They are attended to individually and cordially."

Their patients will be treated with respect, do not need to schedule in advance, are fed and housed until their prosthetic can be fitted and the administrative cost of BMVSS has been worked out to be only 4%, (amazing compared to to 30 to 50 % I see in many organizations. To be completely honest, I am very impressed with this organization; they seem to be doing an amazing job of helping individuals without disempowering them and doing it in an extremely cost effective manner. This is an organization that has completely blown me away. On every page of their website I found more to like about this organization. I know I talk like this about every charity, but this one really stands out of the many organizations I have seen. I can't imagine an organization in the USA could operate anywhere even close to that low a number, unless all its staff were volunteers. Just an all around amazing group.... I hope you agree and will donate to them as well.

While looking them up, I found an article discussing a collaboration between the Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahyata Samiti or the Jaipur Foot Organization and MIT Engineering students. The students are working with the organization in order to make the fitment more precise, as well as design machines that are hand powered, which means they could work in the remotest villages of India. The people at the charity are too busy to refine their designing process, they are always working on fitting more individuals for prosthetics, but the students got a grant to support their work and they will be field testing their design this summer. If you want to read about their work, here is an MIT article about the student project. Enjoy.

Please consider supporting this amazing, amazing charity.


  1. Making prosthesics available to those who need them is always awesome.

  2. This charity is absolutely amazing! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  3. Yes, help not charity! Thanks for putting into words what I had been thinking.

  4. I use the word charity a lot on this blog, but I get so frustrated by that. Because it takes a way a person's autonomy. It implies they could do nothing without our help, but thats not so, the important thing is how much they can do with a bit of assistance.
    None of us would get anywhere without some help from someone along the way...