Recently, a friend emailed me and drew my attention to the pressing need for affordable easy-to-use wheelchairs. I'm including an excerpt of the email and leaving the names out for anonymity:
"One day I was in the office of N, the U.S.-trained engineer who
adapts and fits wheelchairs for the ISIC patients. A woman came in,
pleading with N for a wheelchair for her husband, who was about
to be discharged from the hospital. Her husband had received free
medical care, but there was no money to pay for a wheelchair.
Afterward I discussed the matter with N. Couldn't this man get
one of the very inexpensive wheelchairs that have been developed for
the third world, basically plastic lawn chairs with wheels? No, they
are not suitable, said N; they allow the patients to be pushed
around, but are impossible for a person to push by himself. Besides,
at $40, they are prohibitively expensive. So, I asked, how much would
a good wheelchair cost? Oh it's very expensive, about $120.
Nekram pointed out that the need is very great with thousands of
people in this man's position. But Vicky and I were impressed that so
little money and just a little encouragement could go a long way to
empower these patients."
Needless to say, I started poking around online .. and lo and behold, I discovered the Wheelchair foundation. This organization was started by Ken Behring in June 2000. Wheelchair foundation estimates that there is a need for 100 million wheelchairs, and their near term goal is to get 1 million wheelchairs to people in 5 years. A key observation that I made was that they are able to get a wheelchair that costs $1700 in the US, to someone in a developing country, for about $150. Read more about it here