Patients who have had their limbs amputated post-lockdown will not be able to get their hands on any prosthetic limbs from the Vanuatu Amputees Association (VAA), says VAA Chairman Michael Shugg.
Since the global pandemic forced nations to close their borders, tourism wasn’t the only sector to take a hit, in this case, the artificial limb business is no longer available to provide their essential service.
“We manufacture here but because of COVID there isn’t any being made at the moment, we need to wait till we get help from the government as we don’t have funds to keep going here,” Mr. Shugg explained.
Lack of government support and with most businesses hemorrhaging cash because of the unprecedented pandemic, VAA were forced to abandon their calling to return mobility to those missing a limb.
According to the Chairman of VAA, “orders last year were 7 to 10 per month”. That is over 100 limbs that were being hand made at Vila Central Hospital for over 100 patients.
As the NCD issue in Vanuatu continues to surge, the number of patients needing to be ambulatory after amputation will only increase as well.
When asked if the VAA could refashion old limbs for new patients, Mr. Shugg commented that it is not a feasible option.
“We cannot revamp limbs this takes a lot of resources, they need to be flown in if we can do this would be an extra cost to individually making them, to make new ones they need to be individually made.”
He added that government support was sought time and time again, although nothing has come of it.
“VAA has contacted three former Prime Ministers and had Ministers that say a lot but do nothing and they all note the importance of the program.”
Mr. Shugg is in close contact with hospitals in Vanuatu since the VAA is the only link between prosthetic limbs and patients in need of them, receiving calls daily from patients requesting limbs, Mr. Shugg has no other choice but to deny their requests.
“The VAA have been contacted on a daily basis for someone to get a new limb or one that needs replacement, we are still amputating 3 limbs per week in VCH and others are being done in Northern hospitals.”
The VAA is slowing turning into a white elephant as the borders continue to remain closed and further pleas to the government falls on deaf ears.
Member of Parliament John Sala who is strong advocate in the fight against NCDs says the government provides zero support for prosthetics and the people are suffering because of this.
“They (amputees) want to get mobilized but they can’t, I’m tired of advising, we advise but nothing is happening, we try to out it over to government but nothing is happening, unless they can stop NCDs,” MP Sala said.
The Malekula MP had his left leg amputated in 2012 and he was fortunate enough to afford a prosthetic limb in Australia for VT600, 000. MP Sala said it has helped him with his mobility and made a big impact in his life.
However, VT600, 000 is a tall order on the middleclass workers in Vanuatu, which is why the VAA played a pivotal role in bridging that financial gap.
“I feel so sorry for those who are facing difficulty and trying to help themselves but the Government does not provide any avenue to cater for these, very sad indeed,” MP Sala sympathized.
He added that the government in retrospect doesn’t seem to be making any strides in tackling some of the major health concerns in the country – “There seems also no plan in place to address these issues. No renal clinic, no prosthetic …But citizens are dying away. Sad!
“We raise the issue but sad that it only fell off. No one dares to pursue these pending issues,” the former diabetic patient said.
The uncertainties are stark, no prosthetics, no government support and no urgency for a change, what is certain though is number of people needing prosthetic limbs, a need that cannot be met despite the best efforts by Mr. Shugg and MP Sala.