Mukti, which provides prosthesis to the needy free of cost, gets a Scottish touch to its process

Andrew Hunter, Astrid Blake, Frances Timmons and Katy Leslie, senior undergraduate bio-medical students of University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, have been busy all Spring and summer. They were told they would be visiting Mukti, a charitable organisation in Chennai that has been fitting the needy with artificial limbs free of cost for the last 27 years. For the four senior students, the trip would be an opportunity to see for themselves how prosthetics and orthotics worked in non-hospital surroundings. They had to pay for the trip but that came with the excitement. “To raise funds, we made university jumpers with logos of prosthetics and orthotics and sold them, we had a Scottish dance with a band and sold tickets to first-year students, we trekked with them, biked across 119 km, contacted people, put out weekly bulletin notices, e-mailed friends to donate,” they say. Worth every bit of the effort, they add.

A new experience

“Mukti caters to a lot of people. People are out-fitted the same day they arrive, and get technically good prosthesis! It’s all so different, we can learn from this, share information.” Back in their campus, a class of 25 uses a workshop, a lab and machinery. They get patients to practise their engineering and fitting skills on. “We’re nervous the first time, but most patients know more than we do since they have had limbs fitted several times,” says Andrew.

The biggest take-aways were the patient profiles at Mukti, they say. “There is accident trauma, leprosy… different patients with different problems. There are children. Most walk on uneven terrain and work in areas we are not familiar with. Mukti’s artificial limbs take into consideration the variety and level of activity. Since we are dealing with people, we need to consider the cost, biology, anatomy, physiology, mechanics, practical use of machines, safety,” he says.

For professors Tony McGarry and Kevin Murray, the trip had a larger purpose. “We heard of Mukti from a friend,” says Anthony. They were looking for the right organisation to partner with, and Mukti happened. It worked with underprivileged people and had no means of support except itself. They visited Mukti in January, found the work impressive, and decided they wanted to collaborate.

“At Mukti, students get familiar with the cost angle and experience cultural differences too. For the 21-year-olds, it’s a worthwhile experience,” says Kevin. The group feels there is educational gap in “where we are and what is happening here”. “Prostheses in India require features to match lifestyles. Different approaches within the confines of cost have to be explored.” Unlike in the U.K., Mukti’s technicians are clinicians as well. They make artificial limbs for working people, most of whom lose limbs in industrial accidents. Orthotists and prosthetists at Mukti are efficient, they say. “Materials are appropriate and available locally. If things go wrong, patients can get it fixed easily.”

They did have apprehensions about the limbs being made — and used — in just a few hours. “We thought prostheses could not be made in one day, but time means different things to different people,” says Kevin. They work well, says Meena Dadha, founder of Mukti. There have been no cases of sores. And assessment is done every six months. “Our aim is not to assume all is well,” says Anthony. “We just want to know if there’s anything we can do to improve, make it more functional, suitable for an Indian way of life.” Maybe a way to bend the limbs more easily, says Meena Dadha. “It’s important to enhance quality without making the limb complicated.”

Anthony also envisages a regular learn-from-each-other programme. British students, medical engineers, can come to study here, he says. Four students will visit Mukti every year for practical training. “Skilled students from here can do a postgraduate programme at our university. There are new happenings, areas to investigate, projects to do. We are learning all the time. The different challenges throw up exciting new opportunities.”