An estimated 2000-3000 people are physically disabled in Jaffna out of a registered population of 600,000 people, official statistics revealed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that overall some 10 to 15 percent of the people in the north of Sri Lanka are physically disabled and this is attributed to illness, accidents, birth defects and the ethnic conflict.
The ICRC is collaborating with the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation to help the physically disabled get back on their feet.
Kamalanathan Navaneethan, a 12 year old boy from the northern town of Killinochchi, was caught in the final stages of the fighting when a shell fell and exploded near him and his sister.
The explosion injured Navaneethan’s sister and at the same time resulted in the young boy losing one of his limbs permanently.
Navaneethan and his family later sought shelter at a camp for the war displaced in the north as the military moved in to capture the rebel town and eventually defeat the rebels three years ago.
Today Navaneethan has hope. He can walk again with the help of an artificial limb tailor made for him by the Jaipur Centre in Jaffna.
“I am really happy that I can walk again. I can go to school and enjoy life. I’m really happy,” Navaneethan told this reporter at the Jaipur Centre.
The Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation in Jaffna has been providing prosthetic, orthotic devices and orthopedic services for disabled people for over two decades and in July this year the center will celebrate 25 years.
Its mission is to reach out to people not just in the north but the entire island with limb-loss and physical disabilities and empower them through a total rehabilitation programme to restore their dignity, rights and recognition.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been providing technical assistance to the Jaipur center in Jaffna since 1994. The beneficiaries of the artificial limbs do not have to pay for the limbs. It’s all free. We want to help these people feel able again,” ICRC Sri Lanka press officer Sarasi Wijeyratne said.
Since its inception the Jaipur center has been providing over 5000 light weight prosthesis and other mobility aids to the physically disabled people in Sri Lanka.
The technology used in producing the prosthesis was obtained from Jaipur, India and officials at the center say it is low cost in production, the artificial limbs can be manufactured within the space of a few days and maintenance is also easy.
Damayanthi, a physiotherapy assistant at the Jaipur center said that while amputees visiting the center are mostly war victims there are many others including those suffering from diabetes who are forced to amputate their limbs.
G. Premaseethan, a 35 year old resident of Pailankady in the north is also among the beneficiaries of the Jaipur artificial limb after he lost his leg in a land mine explosion in 1998 when the war was active.
“I went to look for firewood when I stepped on a land mine which exploded. I lost my leg in that explosion. I then got the Jaipur artificial limb and I could walk again. Today I’m at the center to get a new artificial limb as the old one got loose on the joint,” Premaseethan said.Officials at the center carried out the measurements on Premaseethan and created a caste using plaster of paris to make the new artificial limb which will be ready for him in a few days.Another amputee, 30 year old Premananthan lost one of his legs in an artillery attack during the final stages of the war in Mullaitivu in the north. A fisherman by profession, Premananthan still has piece of the artillery bomb lobbed in his other leg.
Premananthan says he suffer medical complications as a result of the bomb particle in his leg but adds that he is still happy as the artificial limb has helped him get back on his feet and feed his family.
There are so many technologies used around the world in creating artificial limbs but both the ICRC and the Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation in Jaffna says the Jaipur technology is ideal for those who find in difficult to have to pay for the more expensive technology found overseas.
(Report and pics By Easwaran Rutnam in Jaffna)