Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Hope for Angola's Amputees

Benadito Cacoma Boeis, now 27, was 12-years-old when he was walking down to the river in his native Luena to wash his shorts and go for a swim. It was a sunny day and his friends were already in the water, calling to him to jump in. Just at the water’s edge, he stepped on a landmine that instantly destroyed both of his legs.

This is an all too common story in the lives of many Angolans living in rural areas. The amputee population in Angola has been calculated as being over 100,000, the highest in the world, of which 8,000 are children under the age of fifteen.

Following the 27-year civil war which ended in 2002, Angola is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. The Landmine Impact Survey of 2007 identified 1,988 communities as impacted by landmines and other remnants of conflict, with all 18 provinces, and an estimated 2.4 million people affected.

Despite these grave statistics, great progress has been made by multinational deming groups in clearing landmines and providing rehabilitation services to the heavily affected Angolan peoples. These NGO groups help thousands of Angolan demobilized soldiers and disabled civilians regain their dignity and become productive citizens through physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

Besides the detailed process of individually examining and fitting the proper prosthesis to each amputee, counseling is given to address the social and psychological issues that often prevent war-wounded and other disabled Angolans from leading productive lives by partnering with a local organization to carry out educational and counseling activities. Recreational and sports activities are offered through the “Sports for Life” program, which demonstrates to both patients and their communities that those with war injuries can still be active, competitive and productive.
New Science in Detecting Landmines!   Weeds and humans to the rescue! Scientists in Denmark have been tinkering with Arabidopsis thaliana (the homely Thale cress) trying to produce a plant whose flowers will change color in the presence of landmines.
“Within three to six weeks from being sowed over land mine infested areas the small plant…will turn a warning red whenever close to a land mine.” Arabidopsis can be genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives.

Arabidopsis, lab rat of the plant world, sprouts and blossoms quickly. “The seeds could be dropped from an airplane over a suspected minefield. After a few weeks of growth, soldiers and civilians could judge by the plants’ colours whether the area is safe. The plants could be a huge help to civilians who want to reclaim farmland after a war.” (Human Flower Project 2008)

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