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War amputees fight for new limbs

Oct 4, 2010 5:33:00 AM- transcurrents.com

by IRIN News

JAFFNA, 4 October 2010 (IRIN) - More than 16 months after the Sri Lankan government ended a 26-year civil war by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, thousands of amputees await help.

Ninety percent of Sri Lanka's estimated 160,000 amputees, many disabled by landmines and explosions linked to the civil war, lack proper prosthetic limbs, says the Sri Lanka School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, a project of the Cambodia Trust.

"I am handicapped due to a needless war and I am still suffering," said Jeganathan Sivakumaran, a 25-year-old from Mullaitivu, a town in northeastern Sri Lanka. He lost both his legs in a shell attack in early 2009 and is still without prosthetics. "I live like an animal in the street begging for money."

Artificial limb services are inaccessible and limited in terms of providers and funds at district level because of a lack of skilled technicians and donor support, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) told IRIN.

"There are not enough service providers in this field to cover the artificial limb needs of the country," Ivan Rasiah, USAID programme coordinator, said. "The government doesn't have enough capacity to provide these services due to a lack of facilities and trained people."

Such issues, particularly prominent in the north, are a primary concern for Sri Lanka, said Ravindra Solomans, a representative for the department of social services.

"In the remote areas resources are a big problem - there are not enough therapists, and not enough accessibility," Solomans said. "Now that the civil war is over we are training officers and volunteers in this field."

The government says it hopes to make all public areas accessible to disabled people within five years.

Cost issues

"The most body-friendly raw material is expensive and imported from the United States. Indian materials are inexpensive, but not very patient-friendly," activist Lalith Ganhewa told IRIN.

For example, a prosthetic made in the United States can cost between US$5,000 and $12,000, putting it out of reach of many Sri Lankans, who earn an average of $4,500 a year, although that does not reflect inequalities between urban and rural populations, according to the US Department of State.

Shankar Kamalarajan, 41, from Jaffna, the capital of Northern Province, lost his right leg in a landmine in 2007 when collecting wood in the jungle. He was unable to find a prosthetic until February this year when a local community group sponsored him.

But for those who cannot find sponsors, the prospects look bleak.

"Two years I spent as a beggar because I could not do anything to help my situation," Kamalarajan said. "There were days I did not have food and had to starve. Now I am trying to adjust to a new life leaving the trauma of being handicapped in the past."