Katherine: Jaipur Foot – The Epitome of Altruistic Innovation

Home to some of the world’s richest individuals (like multi-billionaire Mukesh Ambani), India also has millions of people living below the poverty line. While extreme poverty in India continues to fall quickly, many people still struggle to access necessities like food and medical care. However, India’s ability to maximise efficiency through innovation is helping those most in need achieve a higher quality of life. One of the many charities in India epitomising altruistic innovation is Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS).

BMVSS is famous for giving free, timely and high-quality artificial limbs, calipers and other aids to the disabled (regardless of their sex, religion or background). Perhaps what BMVSS is most well-known for is the Jaipur Foot – a highly functional, waterproof leg prosthesis. Unlike prosthetic limbs made in the USA which can cost more than $10,000, the Jaipur Foot only costs around $20 to make. Moreover, a below-knee Jaipur prosthesis can be made and fitted within as little as three hours. BMVSS achieves such staggering time and cost savings through its calibrated production process, which makes best use of materials and human labour.

The foot section of the prosthesis is made primarily using black rubber, a wooden ankle block and an ankle bolt.

The Jaipur Foot is highly functional largely due to the Jaipur Knee. Jointly created by Stanford University and BMVSS, the Jaipur Knee effectively replicates normal human mobility by supplying stability and a good range of movement. The Jaipur Knee uses a four-bar linkage geometry and has both an upper and lower body block.

An employee at Jaipur Foot (BMVSS) who also uses the famous prosthetic leg. 

The BMVSS leadership team is comprised entirely of unpaid volunteers, which helps ensure that any donations to the not-for-profit are used to create more prosthetic limbs. During our visit to Jaipur Foot (the Jaipur-based BMVSS clinic), we spoke with Satish C. Mehta, a member of the BMVSS Executive Committee. Ambassador Satish Mehta, a retired Indian diplomat, is the honorary director of international operations at BMVSS. Ambassador Mehta was truly inspiring to listen to –  he stressed the importance of keeping costs at BMVSS to a minimum in order for the charity to help a greater number of people. 

Satish C. Mehta explaining how the Jaipur Foot works.

Having set up on-the-spot limb/caliper fitment camps in over 25 countries, BMVSS has also extended its reach far beyond India. Amputees in countries like Afghanistan, Malawi and Sudan have enormously benefited from the Jaipur Foot technology and technicians provided by BMVSS. The overseas respect and appreciation BMVSS has generated for India is immense.

The mission, efficiency and effectiveness of BMVVS’s work deserves more attention from developed countries, where the cost of prosthetic limbs is often exorbitant. It is essential for governments and NGOs to turn their attention towards India, where altruistic innovation is occurring at an unparalleled scale.

Katherine Skidmore

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