India’s Feet and Minds

Despite India’s complex political and economic situation, there is a growing focus on addressing problems' root causes, rather than just dealing (ineffectively) with bad outcomes. The challenge is to think of India's more than one billion people not just as mouths to feed, but also as minds to educate and skilled workers to employ.

NEW DELHI – Last month, I visited the Jaipur Foot clinic in New Delhi. You may have heard of the Jaipur Foot. It is both an invention – a prosthetic foot made from cheap materials costing about $45 (versus $8,000 for a similar device in the United States) – and an amazing, low-cost network of clinics around the world that has served more than 1.3 million people with new limbs, calipers, and crutches.

I was expecting something like a hospital – saintly ladies bustling around in white uniforms, earnest doctors with stethoscopes, and, of course, hospital beds. Instead, I found a hole in the wall; it looked more like a place where mechanics strip down used motorbikes.

A group of people, some of them missing limbs, sat on a bench waiting to be served; others were limping or walking from one small room to another – from assessment to fitting to testing. Overall, there were roughly 50 customers (who paid nothing) in a set of six cramped rooms, plus a courtyard in the back with another six sheds. In those sheds, a dozen men were shaping rubber and plastic, baking the fake feet in autoclaves, and stretching molten plastic pipes over fiery molds to make the fittings that would connect feet with stumps of amputated legs.

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