Bolivia has a disproportionately high number of people without access to healthcare. As a consequence there is a large population of Bolivian amputees without any hope of regaining their mobility. For many, the loss of a limb, means the loss of independence, dignity, employment, partners, families and futures. In 1994 a program was started to address the lack of support available to low-income Bolivian amputees. Two Bolivian Prosthetic Technicians, one an amputee himself, were sent to India for further training with The Mukti Foundation. The program began upon their return to La Paz, Bolivia. The Technicians worked alongside a team of local Doctors and helpers who volunteered their time to make the project happen. Ten to twenty low-income amputees were selected to be included in the programme and in a one intense month of work prosthetics were made and fitted to all the amputees.
The program continued at that level for 17 years; a small scale project, making a massive difference to the lives of the selected Bolivian amputees. Then, in 2010, an American volunteer named Matthew Pepe came along and was overwhelmed by the potential impact of the project. He initiated the enormous step of creating an entirely new program, which would be open full-time. His goal was to dramatically increase the number of people that could be helped and to improve the quality of the technology provided. He worked tirelessly alongside the team of Bolivian technicians and other volunteers to set up our centre as it currently stands: a sustainable project, using local materials, employing qualified Bolivian technicians, making high-quality prosthetic limbs. We are supported by a network of global volunteers, that assist us in the project; making prosthetics in the workshop, helping to run the center, fundraising and much more.
“A sustainable project, using local materials, employing qualified Bolivian technicians, making high-quality prosthetic limbs.”
“We are now helping 50 patients each year and can do so for $30,000 – the price of one high-end prostheses in the USA.”
We are now helping over 50 patients each year. We have partnered with LIMBS international who have enabled us to improve the quality of the knees we produce and have provided us training in the production, fitting and rehabilitation of their polycentric knee design free of charge. We have also teamed up with the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation in Seattle, Washington, who are providing us with detailed technical advice, to increase the quality of the limbs we produce, as well as Northwestern University, who provided us with the design of our shape and roll foot. In the future we hope to offer low-cost durable prosthetic arms as well.
Despite the success of the center to date, we still need help! Even though the government support us, they are not in a position to assist us financially. Although we produce 100% of our prosthetics in Bolivia, using local technicians, materials and machines, we are still reliant on financial support from international organizations and individuals. The good news is a little goes a long way in Bolivia. For example, our above-the-knee prosthetic legs, incorporating a fully functional poly-centric LIMBS knee and a SACH foot will cost approximately $1200. That includes parts, labour, material, utilities and associated costs. Annually we help approximately 50 patients for approximately $50,000. Imagine that – in the USA just one high-end prosthetic can cost that.