The only government-run centre that makes prosthetic limbs is struggling to stay afloat even as private centres make hefty profits.
The Government Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in K.K. Nagar has a long waiting list for basic prostheses.
Because of the delay and need for repeated visits for fitting, many patients do not come to the facility.
Last week, a 12-year-old boy received a prosthesis imported from Germany during a function at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital.
The doctors extolled the virtues of the imported limb and said locally available prosthetic limbs were heavy and difficult to walk with.
Tamil Nadu was the first state to start a three-year diploma course in orthotics and prosthetics in the late 1960s. The course was conducted by the orthopaedics department of Madras Medical College to which the GH is attached.
Students were trained at the Government Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine to develop prosthesis.
But today, the machines and equipment in the Institute’s School of Prosthetics and Orthotics are antiquated.
At present, there are only three students pursuing the course, of whom, two are in the third year and one is in the second year. The institute has only 12 workers and there is a huge backlog of orders.
“The inordinate delay in getting the prostheses is sending people to private centres,” a senior employee at the Institute said. The morale of employees at the Institute is low. There were 72 technicians earlier but when vacancies arose due to retirement, they were not filled. At present, 64 posts are vacant, alumni say.
According to them, in its heyday, the school was sought by orthopaedists from across the country to learn to design prostheses. The Institute had a bioengineer who was involved in research and development.
“In 1968, we developed the Madras Foot and it was designed to incorporate metti (toe rings) if we were making it for a married woman. It was our design that Dr. Sethi used and it was patented as Jaipur foot,” said alumnus K. Sanmugam, who retired from Stanley Medical College.
The course is now being conducted by the Directorate of Technical Education but alumni say the speciality must be brought under the medical education department.
According to the alumni, the institute was rocked by a series of controversies as there were corruption charges against several doctors who headed the institution.
These trained technicians say if the government paid attention to the course, it would not only prevent the need to seek imported prostheses but also ensure hundreds of persons who need prostheses would get quality products on time.