Dechen Tshomo

In 2016, when Loday Phuntsho joined Gidakom hospital in Thimphu as a Physiotherapist a pile of broken wheelchairs at the Physiotherapy unit caught his attention.

Soon after he felt the need to do something with the scrape as the hospital struggled with an increasing demand for wheelchairs.

The hospital received less than 10 wheelchairs a year but it was not enough for increasing patients requiring the service. A wheelchair costs about Nu 12,000.

The hospital hosting the only prosthetic centre in the country, most of the patients it treated needed wheelchairs. “We need to provide them with the assistive device until we provide them with prosthetic and orthotic devices,” Loday Phuntsho said.

The hospitals then had only one type of wheelchairs for all patients.

As the situation called for a solution, instead of surrendering the non-functional wheelchairs to the government, Loday Phuntsho started repairing them.

“We received many people who needed a wheelchair and we could not provide each of them a new one so I thought we could repair some and continue providing the services.”

Many of the malfunctioning wheelchairs had their main frames in good condition. He repaired about eight wheelchairs using the parts of 18 non-functional wheelchairs that were surrendered to the hospital in 2016 and 2017.

“We used the repaired wheelchairs to transfer patients and the new ones that we received from the government were provided to the people with disability,” he said.

A few weeks of basic training on wheelchair assembling to Physiotherapists in 2017, funded by WHO helped Loday Phuntsho in his effort to help the wheelchair users. “The toolset that I received during the training came in handy. I also got some tools from the prosthetic centres.”

In 2018, the hospital received another type of wheelchair. “The basic wheelchair has different structure for different purposes,” he said. It is provided to people living with a disability. “It has to be used daily so the structure has to be stronger.”

The national referral hospital in Thimphu today has three types of wheelchair including the intermediate wheelchair.

While those who can afford, use a motorised wheelchair, the government now provides the three types of wheelchairs for free.

With the advancement in technology different types of wheelchairs became available which are also more durable, Loday Phuntsho said.

“We don’t get many transfer wheelchairs to repair now. For the past two years, I just carried out minor repairing works.”

Some people recently returned two wheelchairs to the hospital after learning that they were being repaired and given to those who need them.

He pointed out that some patients don’t return the assistive device even when they don’t require it anymore. Some don’t take care of it and return it with rusted frames which cannot be reused.

“If people return the wheelchairs to the hospital, we can use the accessories or other parts to repair and provide it to those who require it,” he said.

Prosthetic and orthotic devices are manufactured at the prosthetic centre and are provided to patients. The physiotherapy unit with a physiotherapist and three technicians provide rehabilitation services to the patients.

On average, the unit receives about 10 to 15 patients every day in summer and about five to 10 during winter months.