| kham aid home | Wheelchairs
on the way (Oct, 2000)
Wheelchairs Delivered (Nov, 2000) | Status report (July, 2000) | What we spent (Dec, 2000)
Wheelchair Program in its Second Year (Sept, 2001)
Wheelchair Distribution in Danba County
by Dana Isherwood
Nov 10, 2000
In Danba, the county seat, the Kham Aid Foundation distributed 25 wheelchairs to the disabled. David Altman personally fit sixteen of the wheelchairs for the new owners and one chair was adjusted for a paraplegic based on the information provided by his brother who came to pickup the chair. Two chairs were given to the local hospital and the remaining chairs were given to the officials in Danba County for distribution. Two days had been set aside for fitting wheelchairs, but after we began work on the first day, we were told that the fittings must be finished in one day as the people had no place to stay the night and must return home that day. As a result, some family representatives came to pickup chairs, but left with or without the chairs when it became clear that we could not find time to talk with them personally before the only bus of the day left for their village. We were able to delay the bus, but not enough to give all the family representatives the information needed to fit the chairs when they returned home. County officials said they would follow-up at a later date.
Wheelchair recipients that were personally fit by David Altman ranged in age from 22 to 75. The youngest had his spinal column injured in an accident in a hydropower station when material fell on his back five years ago. The oldest had her right foot very badly damaged in a fire when she was two years old. Twelve of the 16 disabled persons we met were disabled as a result of various accidents-some at a very early age. Wheelchair fitting is not always straightforward particularly in two cases where open wounds had to first be treated. A 74 year old man had an open ulcerated wound approximately 2 inches in diameter above his ankle which according to him had failed to heal with western, Chinese, or Tibetan medicines. He thought he had diabetes. If so, poor circulation could have interfered with healing. The wound was cleaned and rebandaged. He was given a supply of bandages and antibiotic ointment with instructions to soak in warm water daily. Another man (44) had his right shin crushed in an accident over a year ago. He had made his own splint for support, but an open wound remained. David gave him a new splint, and cleaned and bandaged his wound. He would have been given a supply of bandages and antibiotic ointment for future use, but by this time, our supplies were not sufficient to give him everything he needed. In the future, large first aid kits well supplied with gauze 2X2s and 4X4s, bandages, tape, small tubes of antibiotic ointment, and bottles of medicated lotion for dry skin (to prevent future skin irritations) are needed so kits can be distributed when appropriate. Local pharmacies in small villages do not always have these items or, although the cost is low, they are too expensive for the very poor.
At the end of our stay, the officials representing the Disabled Federation and the county government gave a presentation detailing their needs. Mr. Wu translated their request. They had three needs: 1) build a disabled persons rehabilitation and supply physical therapy equipment and therapists; 2) provide capital for farmers to improve their livestock; and 3) help to retrain the disabled for jobs. There are 3300 disabled persons in the 1600 villages in the county (the term "village" was not defined and could mean any place with more than one house). The most serious causes of disability are road and farming accidents. Injuries to the limbs and spinal column often result in a disability. The county hospital no longer has a functioning x-ray machine and surgery is often required to "look and see" before determining treatment. An additional 30 wheelchairs are needed and no one knows how many sets of crutches or walkers could be used.
Note: some of the wheelchair recipients might better profit from a well-fit pair of crutches given the terrain and conditions of the roads or trails.
After a visit to the county hospital, I wondered whether, given the number of children with injuries to the limbs, a good x-ray machine and physical therapy shouldn't have a higher priority than capital for livestock. A new Chinese made x-ray costs 120,000 Yuan (~$15,000 US). Seriously ill or injured patients have little choice of treatment. I was told that going to the more sophisticated (relatively speaking) Kangding Hospital would cost 400 Yuan (~$50 US) to get in and then there would be the difficulty of transporting the patient on bumpy dirt roads and the expenses of the relatives that care for the patient (there are very few nurses and patient care is left to the relatives) and the cost of medicine, food, etc. There is no safety net for the poor in China and people make do with what they have.
Danba officials look to tourism to provide new sources of income, but the only hotel accepting foreigners in town was the shabby County Guesthouse with paper thin walls, run down facilities, and dirty bathrooms that provided hot water for about an hour each evening. The town is located in a deep valley with wonderful views of the surrounding peaks, but the dirt road to Danba is difficult, the roads that access the peaks and surrounding sites of potential interest were closed to motorized traffic, and the only monastery (a tourist attraction in many towns) is 12 km away. It houses two monks--more on holidays I was told. With the exception of one building under construction, other signs of economic expansion were missing. Yet, the people of Danba that we met believe in the future of their county, their town.