Bringing Holistic Rehabilitation to Eastern Uganda

April 30, 2024

East of Kampala, Uganda is a town called Jinja, which sits at the source of the Victoria Nile, one of the Nile River’s tributaries, on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. Following the A109 eastbound, one passes the green and mountainous landscape of rural Uganda, and sweeping vistas of tea farms. The road crosses through the Mabira Central Forest Reserve, where baboons line the highway with their infants awaiting treats from passing cars, and “Elephant Crossing” signs tantalise the tourists who instantly crane their necks for a glimpse of an elephant through the trees. 

This pleasant journey, however, is hampered by the heavy congestion in and out of Kampala, and wobbly stretches of poor road surface and constant maneuvering to avoid the country’s infamous potholes. 

But if you make this journey on the last weekend of March, you may come across a large group of walkers, runners and cyclists along the route, leaving a trail of freshly painted road crossings in their wake. These are the participants of the ASNU-Pedrine Prosthetic Accessibility Fund Walk to raise awareness about road safety and raise funds by making the 80km journey on foot or on bike, many making the journey with prosthetic legs or crutches.

Road safety? But surely the biggest cause of amputation in the countries where we work is landmines, you ask? Or gunshot wounds, or animal bites?

Nope. Most often, it’s road accidents.

In Uganda, the reality of this problem is so stark that a national road safety plan has been implemented to attempt to curb the number of life-changing incidents attributed to road traffic accidents. Charlotte Kangume, co-founder of Amputee Self-Help Network Uganda and disability advocate, knows it all too well, having lost her own leg in a road accident in 2018.

“Every scar tells a story, but not every story needs to begin with a crash. Road safety isn’t just about reaching our destinations; it’s about ensuring every journey is a safe one. Let’s steer towards a future where amputation isn’t a consequence of carelessness, but a reminder to drive with diligence and compassion.” Charlotte Kangume

On arrival in Jinja (hopefully after a good night’s sleep!), the team runs a camp to provide these services to people with limb loss in the area, with the support of Mulago Hospital’s orthopedic technology team who can measure those living too far from Kampala for a prosthetic leg at a subsidised price or for free with rescued prosthetic components. The funds raised by ASNU also go towards prosthetic devices for those unable to afford them.

Awareness-raising is crucial not just to prevent avoidable RTA-related amputations but also to demonstrate the need for an effective national strategy for rehabilitation and assistive technology, and properly funded services. The work of orthopedic workshops and rehabilitation services is severely under-prioritised in budgetary allocation, and yet due to issues like road accidents, diabetes and gangrene, increasing numbers of people are losing their limbs and are unable to access the support that would allow them to retain their independence and re-enter the workforce, and must battle the mental health challenges of their newfound disability and the stigma attached alone. 

Here the work of peer-led organisations such as ASNU is essential. Not only does ASNU’s dedicated team work to advocate for better road safety as well as reduced stigma for people with disabilities through their visibility in the community (ASNU members with prosthetic legs have an agreement to never hide their device but to always have it proudly on show); their main purpose is to provide psychosocial support to people with disabilities and limb-loss, both in Kampala and in the wider regions where access to care is even more limited.

In a manner befitting their name, Amputee Self-Help Network is working towards financial sustainability by running fundraising events such as the Jinja walk and hiring a fundraiser to make applications to grants and foundations, so that they can continue to provide these essential services and bring hope and confidence to people with limb loss. 

Like to find out more? Check out ASNU’s work here 

Because it takes more than a prosthetic leg to STAND.

About the author

Name: Stefanie

I'm Stefanie and I manage STAND's Rehab Centre Upgrade and Training projects - working with our partners in orthopedic workshops in sub-Saharan Africa to get what they need for their orthopedic workshops to provide a great service, and providing grants and scholarships for partners and P&O apprentices to access qualifications and extra skills. What I love most about my job is connecting with so many fantastic, passionate people around Africa and the world and learning something new every day. When my laptop’s closed, I’ll crack out some movie scores on the piano, go sing some showtunes or enjoy the weird and wonderful live theatre of Bristol.

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