Thursday, August 24, 2017

The "Jaipur Foot", India's amazing, frugal medical device innovation is back in the news!

With most medical device innovation happening in the West, it is easy to simply ignore some marvelous innovations coming from elsewhere. The Jaipur Foot/Leg, conceived in India and used for decades, there and elsewhere, is a great example of frugal, yet effective medical device innovation. There are a few excellent resources where you can read about the Leg, it's developmental history etc. Since it has been in the news recently, I thought we could instead take a look at what makes the Jaipur Leg so special:

1. The prosthetic is very effective. It does have an average age of about 3.7 years, after which the patients usually go for a re-fitting, but according to an IEEE write up, the prosthetic could last a lot longer [2].

2. It is QUITE cost-effective. At approximately only a $45 a fitting, due to frugal innovation and donations, a run-of-the-mill $10,000 can't even compare, for the patient populations this device serves. Combine the price with the 3.7 average years of usage, and it still is an excellent bargain!

3. It has attracted a lot of attention from Universities, which has only made its use quite effective. Stanford University teamed up with BMVSS[1] to create an artificial knee (the reason why the Jaipur Leg is, rightfully in the news again), the tour de force behind the Jaipur Leg to create hands. And, so has MIT [3], both with very fruitful results. It also appears to have inspired an artificial hands project [4]!

4. Besides the frugal design, the Jaipur Leg is also marvelous for both cost-effective and rapid manufacturing.

The primary challenge

Of course, the fundamental mechanism that allows poor amputees afford the prosthetic is through donations by philanthropic donors, thus cutting the costs, or making the cost of attachment almost entirely free. This is an ongoing challenge for an organization that is almost entirely built on frugal innovation, and acting as a charity. Some day, there might be an innovation in the compensation/business model, that shall make it even more effective! You might use this as a brainstorming/problem-solving/innovation exercise in your class. There are obvious solutions such as a BOGO option (Buy One Gift One), but there might also be non-obvious ones, so cool, they can be pitched to the BMVSS folks!

Parting Thoughts

Growing up in India, I found that practically no one could miss hearing about the Jaipur Leg. The innovation, deservedly so, even entered popular fiction, through a Telugu Movie (one of the multitude of languages spoken in India, and particularly, at home by my family), and then was either translated or remade in multiple languages, portraying the travails of a Classical Indian Dancer, Sudha Chandran[5], who was fitted with a Jaipur Leg after an amputation, and eventually had a successful dance career.

All this makes me sad and wonder, why the Jaipur Leg has not inspired many many more such innovations, frugal or otherwise in India. It has inspired some, yes, but one would expect more. Instead, revered as it as, it is wrongfully seen as an artisan masterpiece, rather than as a source for more medical device innovation. This is something worth considering, and perhaps something ought to be done to transform the way the Jaipur Leg and the problems patients in India face are viewed by innovators and inventors alike.

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2. IEEE on the Jaipur Leg:




6. Image, Courtesy, Pexels:

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