How a double amputee has beaten the odds to become one or just two Afghani women to become a certified prosthetist and orthotist
It’s been a busy three weeks for nine Afghan nationals, who recently flew to Bangkok for their final training and examination that has seen them become their country’s first fully qualified prosthetists and orthotists.
The nine make up the second cohort of the Blended Distance Learning Programme that allows them to earn a Bachelor’s degree in the prescription, design and production of customised legs, arms, hands and other limbs from the Sirindhorn School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (SSPO). The school, which is part of Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, is the only facility in this part of the world to be certified by the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO).
Coming from one of the world’s most mined and wartorn coun¬tries, it is perhaps hardly surpris¬ing that two of the students, including one of the two women, are themselves amputees.
Mahpekay Sidigy is a bilateral aboveknee amputee who lost both her legs in childhood after stepping a landmine. She hasn’t let that difficulty stand in the way of fulfilling her dream of becom¬ing a qualified prosthetist and orthotist (P&O) and has spent the last four years working hard to complete the programme.
“In the Afghan tradition, women are not allowed to go to a male P&O or doctor. The result is that many of them don’t get the treatment they need because of the lack of female staff. Afghan women suffer more and sacrifice more than men. So when they lose limbs, the problem is double the amount of suffering,” she says.
Sidigy started working in the field of P&O at the Kabul Orthopaedic Organisation in 2005 as a technician before enrolling for the undergraduate course, which she and her eight colleagues have spent four years completing.
She is grateful for the study pro¬gramme the SSPO and the Human Study eV, a German nonprofit organisation, has created for those technicians from countries around the world who want to take their chosen career to the highest level.
In countries like Afghanistan, international rescue organisations help to produce P&O technicians, who are classified as Category II workers by the International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics. Bachelor degree grad¬uates are classified as Category I and recognised as certified pros¬thetists and orthotists.
With help from Human Study and the ISPO, the SSPO’s training is fully recognised as a to Category I bachelor programme. The first cohort was made up of seven P&O technicians from the Balkans and they graduated last year. A third cohort from Malawi, Tunisia and other African nations is currently enrolled on the course.
Thanks to the collaboration of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which funded the entire programme and provides mentoring and support onsite, as well as Human Study, which ensures that all the educa¬tional aspects of the curriculum were delivered in the best possible manner while providing students with constant online support, all nine have been able to complete the course, which ends with three weeks training in Bangkok and the final examination.
“The number of people with disabilities increases every day as the fighting continues,” says Sidigy.
“Graduating and being recog¬nised as a Category I P&O is the great opportunity for me to be a teacher, especially of women.
Sidigy wrote of her intentions in her submission to Human Study and the NGO’s chief executive Christian Schlierf kindly allowed The Nation to publish an extract.
“At the same time, as you know, in orthotic and prosthetic treat¬ment the patient should be com¬pletely relaxed and develop a con¬fidence in the clinician, so that she is able to express her expectations from the treatment and help the clinician provide the best service,” she wrote.
As a patient herself, Sidigy stresses the benefits of under¬standing how the patient feels.
“The consequences of the war in Afghanistan over the last three decades are devastating. Many people have lost their limbs and suffered from diseases that caused physical problems. These people need help. We are all humans and we depend on each other, thus we should try to help each other,” she says.