Academics, students and medics from Nottingham help disabled Ugandans
IN the Ugandan capital of Kampala it's not easy to get hold of mobility aids.
While people in the UK have items like crutches and special shoes readily available, that is not the case in poorer parts of the world.
That is why a team of academics, students and medics from Nottingham travelled to the country – armed with equipment which had been decommissioned by the NHS.
They took a 40ft container full of crutches, leg callipers, braces and orthotic shoes.
They treated 240 patients with lower-limb disabilities who would otherwise be left to struggle without.
Dr Trudy Owens, who led the team of 19 people on the summer trip, has just finished doing a update with the patients.
They will head out there again in June next year to treat some of those who missed out.
She said: "It is an incredible place to go. People out there have none of that kind of equipment we take for granted.
"Being an academic, you are used to people not really being interested in you. But when we arrived out there everyone wanted to be with us."
Dr Owens, a development economist at the University of Nottingham, organised the trip after doing years of research on poverty, growth and non-governmental organisations in sub-Saharan Africa.
She was offered the equipment after a chance meeting at a children's birthday party with a local orthotist, who told her about the number of devices which are still in good working order but are put out of action every year because of stringent NHS health-and- safety measures.
Dr Owens added: "I travel to Africa regularly for my research and thought of the people out there who are desperately in need of equipment of this kind.
"My intention was to fill an extra suitcase for the next time I went out there, but when I went to collect the equipment from the orthotics department at the Queen's Medical Centre there was enough to fill a garage and the project really spiralled from there."
With assistance from husband Dr Nikos Evangelou, a clinical associate professor at the university and a consultant neurologist at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, they made contact with the head of the National Police Aid Convoy Association, who offered them storage at Castle Marina in Nottingham, ahead of the trip, which was funded by a £20,000 donation from the University of Nottingham Alumni Fund.
Dr Margaret Phillips, professor in rehabilitation medicine at the university, also went on the trip.
She said: "It was inspiring to see the resourcefulness of people with disabilities in Uganda, but also sad to witness the problems of discrimination that they experience compared with people in the UK.
"We hope the project will show that giving equipment like this can help people in developing countries. But we were also very aware that to have a real effect more may need to be done, for instance, further rehabilitation to enable people to use their equipment effectively.
"What we do know is that, whatever effect we find, we can then use it to help people in the future."
On the trip, the team were featured on national television, given an audience with Uganda's Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga and assessed bus-loads of disabled patients brought to their base at Kampala's Mulago Hospital by local MPs.
The majority of patients were suffering from disabilities resulting from the childhood disease polio, which has been largely eradicated in the Western world but still persists in many developing countries, including Uganda, where access to medical treatment and vaccines is too expensive for the majority of the country's population.
In addition, the team saw many injuries caused by old gunshot wounds, road traffic accidents and congenital deformities.
The patient's disabilities and physical capabilities were carefully assessed by the orthotists and clinicians who prescribed the most suitable device for their needs.
Dr Owens said they were already storing lots of equipment for their next visit, though she said there may not be as much as this year's trip.
She said: "We have a better idea of the equipment needed this time around, so it will be much more targeted.
"I thought that it would be upsetting, that I would be in tears every day — and of course there were a few heart-breaking stories that we came across — but on the whole it was a very uplifting experience.
The team was capably assisted by the two children of Dr Owens and Dr Evangelou – nine-year-old Alex and five-year-old Anna – who were given special leave for the trip by their school, Middleton Primary, in Wollaton, on the condition that they presented a special assembly about their experiences to classmates on their return.
Dr Owens said: "They helped out running errands for us but really came into their own keeping the children of the patients company and handing out paper and crayons."
PhD student Samantha Torrance, 27, who was also on the trip, said: "The reaction we got from the disabled people was tremendous and made it feel worthwhile.
"We treated many people but also couldn't help some, including those who needed corrective surgery. That was very upsetting."