International day for persons with disabilities

A NEW truck manned by four physiotherapists is to tour Myanmar (Burma) making and fitting prosthesis for leprosy-affected people, landmine victims and others who have lost a lower leg and suffered physical and emotional trauma.

The special truck will be unveiled in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on Monday 3 December, International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The work done on board will transform the lives of around 350 people in its first year alone.

The Leprosy Mission became the Myanmar government's leading organisation for disability issues following the expertise and care it administered to disabled people after Hurricane Nargis hit the country in 2008, killing 150,000 people.

There are 1.4 million people living with disabilities in Myanmar - one of the poorest countries in Asia - which include some of the nation's most marginalised people.

The Leprosy Mission runs a network of 15 Disability Resource Centres across Myanmar where people with a disability of any kind can access medical treatment, physiotherapy, job training and micro-loans required to establish a small business.

To date, however, there has been little opportunity for people who have lost a lower leg to have a prostheses fitted - allowing them increased mobility and a chance to live life to the full.

But thanks to a grant awarded by the German government's ministry of foreign affairs, anyone who has lost a lower leg now has the opportunity to have prostheses made and fitted free of charge and without having to travel a great distance.

The Myanmar government has tasked The Leprosy Mission with running the mobile prostheses clinic through its Disability Resource Centres which will prepare an individual by bandaging the stump and offering physiotherapy. The four physiotherapists on board the truck have been trained by a Danish expert, Hans-Otto Sigurd Rungby, to make the prosthetic limbs. They will work with each patient ensuring their new limb works for them prior to the Disability Resource Centre providing aftercare.

Dr Zaw Moe Aung, Country Director for The Leprosy Mission in Myanmar, said: "Until now prosthesis services are available only in a limited number of places in Myanmar for the moment and people need to travel either on their own or with the support of a charity to access them. This is usually not possible. "Whether the people coming to us are landmine victims or have lost a limb as a result of nerve damage caused by leprosy. The opportunity to have a prosthetic limb is a God-send. It will transform lives by allowing freedom through mobility and subsequently new opportunities for employment.

"The team on board the prostheses truck has spent six months undertaking intensive training and are excited to be able to take to the road and begin work."

It is estimated that around 15 per cent of those benefiting from a prostheses will be people affected by leprosy. Leprosy is a disease of poverty and is prevalent in Myanmar.

An effective cure for leprosy has been available since 1982 but while treatment halts the progression of the disease, it cannot turn the clock back in terms of disability. Leprosy causes nerve damage and can lead to a loss of sensation in the hands and feet meaning everyday activities are fraught with danger.

Unnoticed stones in shoes often cause ulcers to develop as well as burns going unrecognised and can lead to disability and the amputation of limbs.

The Leprosy Mission England and Wales helps finance the network of Disability Resource Centres in Myanmar. Sian Arulanantham, Head of Programmes Coordination, said: "The Leprosy Mission is delighted to be able to facilitate a host of life-changing opportunities for people with a disability. Since the tragedy of Hurricane Nargis we have developed our services considerably. Our focus is on what an individual can do as opposed to what they are not able to do and we are delighted to highlight this through international day of persons with disabilities."

Interviews are available on request.

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