LONDON (AlertNet) – When friends and colleagues asked Viquar Qurashi how best to help Syrian refugees, he knew the answer immediately.
“Send them money? No. Send blankets or tents? Forget it. These are things that anyone can do. Let’s do something that very few people can do,” he replied.
Qurashi, an orthopaedic surgeon based in the English Midlands town of Dudley, flew to Turkey in January 2013 to help refugees who had lost their legs in the Syrian civil war.
Using a technique he had adapted from an Indian concept, Qurashi fitted the amputees with low-cost prosthetic legs made out of drainpipes melted to fit, with an attached rubber foot.
This simple method means a prosthetic leg can be produced for just £30 ($45) compared with the more than £1,000 a prosthesis costs to make in Britain.
With a team of six technicians from his native Pakistan, the Pakistani-British surgeon set up a makeshift clinic and workshop in Turkey to make the limbs, using plastic pipes and rubber donated by local companies.
Qurashi spent 10 days in Turkey fitting limbs to 114 refugees, while his team stayed for an additional three weeks. Thanks to the simplified production process, the prosthesis can often be fitted in less than a day.
More than 1 million Syrians have fled the country since the two-year-old conflict began, while more than 70,000 people have been killed, according to U.N. estimates.
“The rule of thumb is that one (fatal) casualty means 10 disabilities”, Qurashi told AlertNet. “When the war finishes there will be thousands more to treat.”
Qurashi will return to Turkey in May to oversee the project and make sure that no one has to pay for the services he and his team are providing.
The idea of a cost-effective technique for making prosthetic limbs using locally available raw material was developed in India, where it is known as the Jaipur Foot Technology.
Qurashi adapted the process after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and, with a group of other doctors of Pakistani origin, established the Naya Qadam (New Step) Trust – a non-profit organization - to help victims of the disaster who were left disabled and could not afford to pay for an artificial limb.
“I want to go to the poorest of the poor, who don’t even know if they’re going to have a meal tomorrow morning”, Qurashi said.
Apart from the low production cost, one of the main advantages of the prosthesis is that it is waterproof. Qurashi’s patients live in the developing world and often work in the fields, standing in knee-deep water.
After being fitted with a prosthesis, they regain their dignity as they can return to work and contribute to their family and their community.
The way “to give them back their dignity is to give them a job,” Qurashi said.
The surgeon fitted the prosthesis to almost 1,500 patients from Pakistan and Kashmir.
Qurashi says the artificial limbs he produces are basic and functional, designed to “get people from point A to point B”. But thanks to the simple production process they do not require costly maintenance or servicing and almost anyone can be trained to produce them.
The surgeon keeps a record of every patient he treats, including their telephone number and address, and photographs taken before and after the prosthesis is fitted.
Unless the patient is a refugee with a temporary address, those records enable Qurashi to conduct follow-up consultations and to make sure the patients are not being asked for money at any stage of the treatment.
The project is still running and Qurashi plans to train Syrian volunteers, including women, so that amputee refugees reaching the camp in future will also be able to receive help.