A Vision for Revolutionising Prosthetics in Sub-Saharan Africa

May 29, 2024

We are on the precipice of a revolution. This revolution in prosthetic and orthotic services is not just a necessity—it’s a beacon of hope for millions. Sub-Saharan Africa faces a stark reality of the inequalities of global health: essential services like prosthetics are not just scarce; they are a luxury few can afford. The harsh truth is that many must choose daily between necessities and the possibility of mobility.

Imagine the profound impact on an individual’s life when the choice for a daily meal competes with the need for a prosthetic limb. This is not merely an inconvenience; it’s a barrier between them and the life they aspire to live. In the UK, a prosthetic leg will cost the NHS somewhere between £5000 and £50,000, but it will be free for the end user. In countries where the underfunded healthcare system is battling emergency care, there is often no financial support for an amputee, so, prosthetic legs are unaffordable. A prosthetic leg, and the ability to stand, walk and run, becomes only available to the rich and powerful or those served by charitable donations.

Today, the prosthetic and orthotic landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa is a testament to inequality. With approximately 80% of those in need left unserved, the gap is not just a gap; it’s a chasm. Limited by a dire shortage of trained professionals—where some countries see only a fraction of the needed prosthetists—the challenge is daunting. Costs spiral into the thousands, far out of reach, compounded by societal stigmas that particularly disenfranchise women, who might feel marginalised or overlooked by a predominantly male service provider cohort.

Life doesn’t have to be this way.

Amidst these challenges, there lies a powerful undercurrent of energy and passion. The global south people are ready and eager to drive change if only given the tools and opportunities. It’s not a lack of will that holds back the tide of progress—it’s a lack of resources. The vision is clear: unlock these resources, and the dam breaks, unleashing potential across the continent.

Imagine a continent where cutting-edge P&O facilities are as common as marketplaces, where innovations like 3D printing and digital knowledge-sharing platforms transform what it means to offer timely, cost-effective care. Envision training centres burgeoning across the landscape, where local talents, armed with global knowledge, become the architects of their future in urban centres and reaching into the most remote villages.

This future is within our grasp. It requires a commitment to infrastructure that bridges cities and countrysides across borders, to education that roots deeply in the local soil, and to technology that blossoms from the needs up, not the top down. Investment in cutting-edge bionic arms and laser-guided gait analysis is exciting. Still, when an entire P&O clinic in the Global South could be stocked, trained and operated for the cost of one limb in the Global North, we have to question what has the greater impact.

Strategic investments and equitable collaboration can catalyse this transformation. Infrastructure is more than buildings; it’s a network. Education transcends teaching; it’s about empowering. Technology isn’t just about equipment; it’s about accessibility. By seeding these fields, we cultivate a future where no one is left behind because of geographical or financial barriers.

The call to action is simple yet profound: Forge robust, inclusive, and innovative partnerships. It’s not just about creating connections; it’s about weaving a fabric so resilient that the very landscape of healthcare in Sub-Saharan Africa is transformed.

A revolution is brewing, and it’s time to rise – together.

This is our shared journey. Let’s embrace the challenge and transform the fabric of society together. The future where access to prosthetic and orthotic care is a universal truth is not just a dream—it’s a future we can build today, one step at a time.

This text is a modified version of a talk given at OT World 2024, Leipzig, Germany

About the author

Name: Matt Thomson

As Innovation Manager, at STAND I'm passionate about leading initiatives that strengthen international partnerships as well as exploring innovative prosthetic technologies to boost local production capabilities. When I'm not at work, you'll likely find me outdoors, whether I'm hiking, camping, or just soaking up nature's beauty.

Let our docuseries bring you up to speed.
Marcia lost her leg to diabetes, and now she is able to work again and enjoy her family.
"Each video was inspirational and moving"
Join the wait list to discover stories of resilience and hope 👇🏾

You'll receive 6 short movies, then be added to our ongoing updates. Unsubscribe at any time.