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Sunday 27th May 2018

Iraq's prosthetics crisis

29th July 2007

Daily explosions and violence in Iraq mean thousands of people are losing limbs-usually their legs-every year, officials and aid workers say.


But while some US soldiers have access to state-of-the-art technology, Iraqis are left scrambling for prosthetics which are 30 years out of date.

The Red Crescent Society and the director general for health services in the the northern city of Mosul said they estimate demand for as many as 3,000 additional replacement limbs annually in their region alone.

The limbs are usually lost as a result of amputations, and the severe shortage of prosthetics marks another looming healthcare crisis for the war-torn nation.

Military figures show a rate of amputations carried out by US military surgeons which is double that of previous wars. It is believed that as many as 6% of wounded US troops serving in Iraq will require an amputation.

The usual figure is 3%.

The Iraq conflict is characterised by a high proportion of car bombs and roadside explosions, as well as injuries to civilians during US air strikes. There are now five times as many air strikes today in Iraq as there were in the early part of 2006.

Mosul-based US orthopaedic military surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Mosley said around 80% of the injuries seen at the military hospital were to the extremities.

The hospital, which treats US soldiers, Iraqi civilians and domestic security personnel, also runs a clinic for recent Iraqi amputees.

Mosley said one common sight was open long bone or vascular injuries. Such damage frequently results in amputation. He said he guessed the procedure was currently one of the most common medical procedures performed in Iraq, and added that the Mosul hospital performed a large number of below the knee amputations.

Not only is there a severe shortage of prosthetic limbs available for amputees, but those that are available are old-fashioned, with designs that date back to the 1970s.

US troops returning home have benefited from great advances in technology which largely grew out of increased demand caused by the Iraq war. New prosthetic limbs are fitted with superfast microprocessors, enabling extremely high performance as the limb can distinguish between 50 degrees of strain put on it and make tiny adjustments to the way the hand or leg responds.

A charity called the Marla Fund - a named after US aid worker Marla Ruzicka, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq - is proposing funding a new US$500,000 factory in Mosul to build prosthetics to meet demand.


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