Providing prosthetics in Haiti

By Gabriella Gonzales, Borgen Magazine, Sept. 16, 2019

In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti killed more than 200,000 people and left thousands more in need of prosthetics. Emergency response groups have struggled to meet the increasing need for prosthetics in Haiti. Existing conditions in the country such as poverty, the cholera epidemic and problems in government have all continued to hinder amputee rehabilitation.

Many of the disabled from the 2010 earthquake live in difficult conditions, some only eating one meal per day. There are still amputees that haven’t received prosthetics or rehabilitation therapy. However, groups like Mission of Hope have been working on the ground to get these Haitians the aid they need.


Mission of Hope

Mission of Hope is a religious organization that seeks to change the lives of the people in Haiti. The organization is based in Haiti, which allows them to act as first responders when disaster strikes. When the 2010 earthquake struck, Mission of Hope was the first on the scene giving aid to the injured and providing food and water. Given the rise in amputees, Mission of Hope opened a prosthetics lab to make and distribute prosthetics in Haiti.

The biggest challenge Mission of Hope faces is the cost it takes to make and secure prosthetics in Haiti. Prosthetic maintenance, physical therapy and the cost of a prosthetic are economically challenging for many Haitians. The average annual income for a Haitian household is $400. Only $80 of that income is usually allocated to health-related expenses each year. This places immense pressure on organizations to find a way to produce durable, low-cost prosthetics for low-income amputees.

The prosthetics lab for Mission of Hope seeks to make limbs at a lower cost, so it can give prosthetics to Haitian amputees for free. Haitians need access to these prosthetics as well as the expertise Mission of Hope can give to those who are navigating the use of the prosthesis. Mission of Hope is always looking for prosthetic volunteers and funding for prosthetic supplies to help them in their mission.


An Insider’s Perspective

Zachary Watts is a prosthetic volunteer for Mission of Hope. He gave his insights to the Borgen Project about working with the organization in order to shed light on the need for prosthetics in Haiti. Watts first volunteered for Mission of Hope in 2014, but he fell in love with the cause and has every volunteered every summer since. Watts’ passion for amputees comes from personal experience. As a teenager, Zachary Watts cut off his finger. As an amputee, Watts feels he can understand the feelings that go into dealing with a prosthesis. Watts wanted to share his insight with amputees in Haiti, so he volunteered for Mission of Hope.

Watts has spent much of his time in the prosthetics lab, learning how to make prosthetics for Haitians. He took note of how different making prosthetics in Haiti was from in the U.S. due to a lack of resources. He was also able to fit patients with prosthetics. His most memorable experience was when he was told he would be driving into the mountains to put prosthetics on patients. Watts indicated that this was a particularly needy region for prosthetics because many of these amputees lacked the resources to even travel to come and get a prosthetic.

An abundance of amputees inhabited the mountains. Watts, along with other Mission of Hope members, spent more than six hours putting on prosthetics. The team also taught Haitians about hygiene and the proper way to care for a prosthetic because many of the prosthetics “were filled with urine and dirt.” Mission of Hope spent hours cleaning the prosthetics out as well as teaching amputees how to properly care for their prosthetics in the future. During that time, the members of Mission of Hope were also able to give three new patients prosthetic legs and teach them how to walk with them.


The Importance of Getting Amputees Prosthetics

Watts’ experience goes to show the amazing work the Mission of Hope is doing on the ground. Watts believes that giving Haitians prosthetics is vital because “amputees are generally of working age but are walked over and viewed as less of a person because they cannot provide for their family. […] Having those prosthetics brings back that mobility.” These prosthetics provide the means for many amputees to go back to work and help with the household expenses. In a country that is already struggling economically, any extra help can make a difference.

The need for amputees to help themselves and their struggling families is evident. According to Watts, many Haitians make little more than $1 a day. Their houses are made out of “palm fronds or blue tarps and sticks.” In Watts’ experience, a significant amount of the population had to endure these living conditions. Many did not have the money to even pay for necessities such as food and water. It can take up to a month for a person to save up enough money for a prosthetic. This is why Mission of Hope provides prosthetics for free.


The Financial Challenge

Although Mission of Hope give prosthetics to many amputees for free, figuring out a way to manufacture less expensive prosthetics remains a problem. Watts confirms that part of the reason the rising Haitian amputee crisis has been so hard to tackle is that prosthetics are too expensive. Watts continues to hope that one day Mission of Hope and other organizations will be able to find a way to manufacture cheaper prosthetics.

While finding a solution to the costly nature of prosthetics remains unsolved, there are things that the average person can do to help this cause. Advocating for amputees and getting educated on this issue goes a long way. Looking into organizations working to provide prosthetics in Haiti is another way to gain important insight into the issue.


Posted Sept. 18, 2019