In April I found myself swapping my usual workplace, a busy NHS prosthetics workshop in Manchester, for the sunnier climate of Gambia and specifically the prosthetic workshop in the Department of Social Welfare based in Banjul.
I (along with another fellow technician) was generously sponsored by my employer Opcare after winning a nationwide competition to spend two weeks working with the team in Gambia providing support, training and advice whilst also learning a thing or two about prosthetic rehabilitation in Africa myself. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, my normal working day would usually involve seeing patients in specially adapted fitting rooms, using up to date equipment and materials to carry out repairs and having a stock room available filled with hundreds of different prosthetic components and things were certainly a little different.
On our first day we arrived to a queue of patients waiting to be seen and we had to quickly become orientated with the workshop and get stuck in. Our specific goal was to see some upper limb amputees who had so far been unable to receive help in Gambia due to a lack of components as well as the training needed to manufacture and fit prosthetic arms. Over the next couple of days we managed to cast several upper limb amputees and begin the manufacturing process as well as assisting Gabu and Morrow (Gambia’s only prosthetist and his apprentice) during various fittings and home visits.
It was clear early on that we would be doing things quite differently from what we were used to. The workshop equipment was mostly functional but to a basic standard and the use of all the equipment was subject to frequent power cuts where we would carry on with what we could while we waited for the lights to flick on and the fans to whirr into action and we could continue.
We learnt how to make sockets without a vacuum system (used to pull the resin into the layers of glass matting); how to use an outdoor oven to melt plastic (due to the unreliable power) and how to utilise and strip down several donated limbs to create a leg with all the right components.
By the end of the two weeks we had managed to see as many patients as we could squeeze in as well as manufacture and fit three prosthetic arms to three very happy patients as well as provide just enough training for the team in The Gambia to continue seeing upper limb amputees. Gabu and his team manage amazingly well with what they have and provide an unwavering commitment to their patients whatever the circumstances. Over the next few years updates and improvements to the centre will allow them to continue providing a this invaluable service to Gambia’s amputee community but this is only possible with the continued support from Legs4Africa and their generous sponsors in the UK.
Settling back into work I had a renewed sense of purpose. Working in prosthetics can often be challenging, heartbreaking and exhausting but being able to share the gift I have been given in being trained in such a bespoke and much required area of healthcare has been a wonderful opportunity and one that won’t be forgotten for a long time.