Inside Ethiopia’s best-kept secret: the state of the art prosthetics hub helping amputees secure independence

7 April 2017

‘Working as a farmer, when you have only one leg, is not easy,’ says former soldier Kenea Edosa, supressing a wry smile. He is well aware there are many who think it’s not possible at all.

‘I still plough the field but carrying heavy things has become harder and harder over the years.’

Kenea — tall and athletic — has held down a career as a farmer for 26 years. It can be done.

However, the 48-year-old hopes a new prosthetic leg will help him work faster and perhaps open up alternative career options too.

‘I have four children and want to be able to support them better.’

The farm’s livestock and its hectare of land are cultivated solely by Kenea and his wife.

Agriculture is an insecure profession in East Africa at any rate. Kenea expresses an interest in training as a barber in the future.

Menagesha Rehabilitation Centre

Prosthetic leg fitting at Menagesha Rehabilitation CentreWe’re talking on the day of the prosthetic leg fitting, which is taking place at the Menagesha Rehabilitation Centre on the northern outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa.

The breadth and scope of the work carried out here is quite something to behold, described as ‘a class apart’ by David Masika, an expert in disability support across East and North Africa.

As many as 6,000 Ethiopians receive prosthetics, wheelchairs or assistive devices here each year, according to their most recent annual report.

Cheshire Services Ethiopia

The centre is independently run by Cheshire Services Ethiopia, one of Leonard Cheshire’s sister charities.

Everything is produced onsite in a vast factory workshop staffed by a multi-skilled local workforce, many of whom are disabled.

‘We try to prioritise the poorest of the poor.’ — communications and resources manager Esknder Dessalegen, discussing the centre’s outpatients.

The spokesman cites evidence from the World Bank and a Japanese development organisation, indicating as many as 15% of Ethiopia’s 100 million population are disabled.

Although the production line moves apace, demand continues to exceed supply.

Kenea lost his leg fighting for the military government which ruled Ethiopia in the late eighties but many self-employed farmers across Africa undergo amputations following electrical accidents.

Referrals of injured farmers — along with soldiers — to Menagesha are therefore not uncommon.

Access to surgery

Young boy at Menagesha Rehabilitation CentreThe centre remains most famous for its work with disabled children.

Up to 50 children with polio, a clubbed foot or cleft palate reside at the centre at any one time.

Their stays last for anywhere between four and 10 months, during which time children will receive access to surgery, recovery care and assistive devices as appropriate.

Outreach teams travel the country to meet referrals and to provide treatment in each individual’s home town if possible.

12-year-old Atnkut Alemu says he has enjoyed living at the centre while he recovers from surgery, as in-house schooling will enable him to return to his old school at the same level as his grade five peers.

Treatable blindness remains prevalent. Cheshire Services Ethiopia’s wish for the future is to be resourced with surgeons who can treat river blindness and trachoma on site at Menagesha.

Disability Undressed is a series of stories featuring the people who use our services.This month, for World Health Day, we visited a service from one of our sister charities, Cheshire Services Ethiopia.

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