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First step on my new limbs

Landmine survivors in Northern Uganda on getting their lives back with prosthetic limbs

 

A land mine survivor fitted with a new artificial limb at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital
A land mine survivor fitted with a new artificial limb at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital

“Move your limb, try to move it a bit. No no no, not like that. Let’s try again. Good. Take another step,” said Lucy Angee, an orthopedic therapist while teaching Justine Ojwang, an amputee how to walk with a prosthetic or artificial leg.

From surviving a landmine in 2003, Ojwang, 57 is second time lucky. He recently managed to obtain a pair of prosthetic legs, thanks to information from a friend about the services offered at the centre.

The centre was established in 1996 by NGOs with support from the ruling NRM Government at the peak of the Lords Resistance Army insurgency to cater for landmine victims and other patients.

Since its establishment, the centre has provided prosthetic legs to over 45,000 patients. Operating on a budget of about one billion shillings annually, the centre is able to treat over 350 patients every year. In a country struggling with poor healthcare, the centre’s ability to provide legs nearly to whoever wants them, is an invaluable service to the people of northern Uganda.

Today Ojwang, 57, from Atiak Sub County, Amuru district is learning to take his first step after stepping on a landmine in 2003.

Ojwang is a double amputee, he has to balance his weight to take the first step says Lucy Angee, the physiotherapist training him how to work.  It will take Ojwang about one month to walk on his new limbs made from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital Orthopedic Workshop.

“It is difficult to learn how to walk at my age. I feel helpless but I have to practice so that I can do something to care for my family,” Ojwang told this reporter while standing with the support of his artificial limb holding a pair of crochets.

Irene Laker, 36 years, a former businesswoman from Pece Tegwana, Gulu Municipality lost her left limb to land mine In August 2002 after an attack by the LRA in her area.

“Life was difficult and I had to turn to God for Courage. I recovered but life was hard because I would always fall down due to imbalance.” Narrates Laker: “When I got my artificial limbs, life changed and things were a lot easier for me.” She adds with a smile.

Hawa Muhumuza, an orthopedic technologist at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital says they patients come to the workshop hopeless and weary.

An orthopedic explains to ICC officials Motoo Noguchi (L) and Judge Fenandez (R) how a Swiss limb is made
An orthopedic explains to ICC officials Motoo Noguchi (L) and Judge Fenandez (R) how a Swiss limb is made

“On getting their limbs fixed, it’s not easy but it is always a joy to watch them hope for a better life. Our prayer is that they find their fulfillment in life with these artificial limbs that we give them free of charge,” Says Muhumuza.

At 76 years, Alice Acayo had his leg cut in the upper right knee when he stepped on a land mine that was planted near her home in Lamwo 11 years ago. She had come to the workshop to have her worn out limbs replaced after using it for five years.

Acayo has gotten comfortable walking on prosthetic that she is able to survive on fetching water and selling it at a local market in Lamwo town.

“Because of my new limbs, I can now do somethings on my own without assistance which makes me happy. People were tired of lending a hand always.” Says a joyful Alice to ICC President Fernandez.

Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was in Uganda early this month to visit victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels benefiting from Trust Fund for Victims assistance projects in Northern Uganda. She says the fund can only support a few but not all who need assistance.

Trust Fund for Victims is supporting war victims with physical rehabilitation through partners like GWED-G, AVSI that is supporting the orthopedic works to provide free limbs to the disadvantaged communities who cannot afford orthopedic services on their own.

Dr. Augustine Mindra, the senior Orthopedic at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital says a limb in private facilities could cost between 1million to 1.5 million depending on the service provider.

He encouraged amputees to access the free orthopedic service at the Gulu Regional Referral Hospital to improve their livelihoods.

Approximately 45,000 war victims have benefited from the Trust Fund for Victims in the last eight years since the ICC started channeling funds to war victims in Uganda. The funds were used in physical and psycho-social rehabilitation, support livelihood programs and medical operations for those with bullet wounds and shrapnel in their bodies.

According to David Muzira, the Principal Orthopedic Technologist at Gulu Hospital, the department now experiences more victims of road accidents compared to war victims as it has been in the recent years.

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