ASIAN INNOVATION AWARDS: GOLD

Stand Easy

Thai businessmen are making prosthetics to be given away free. It's a charitable act that's helping people around the world

By Rodney Tasker/BANGKOK

Issue cover-dated October 18, 2001

FOR NEARLY THREE years Thai businessman Woothiwong Toatong has been manufacturing lightweight, artificial limbs and giving them away free.

Woothiwong owns a machinery-importing company in Bangkok. He is also president of the Thai Industrial Development Forum, which makes prosthetics primarily from lightweight polyurethane, rather than from resin-based plastics.

The 3,500 members of the TIDF gave away their first free leg in December 1998 to a Thai soldier who had stepped on a landmine on the Cambodian border. Since then, more than 250 prosthetics have been fitted free onto amputees worldwide.

One satisfied foreign amputee is Rekha Shah, from Essex, England, who wrote Woothiwong: "I will be grateful if you can please make two pairs of boots for me to use with my amputated foot . . . The boots will help me to walk with ease."

Woothiwong, 53, gladly gave Shah her boots, made of soft polyurethane and leather. And she travelled to Thailand to collect them. He has dealt with similar requests from Brazil, Pakistan, Malaysia, China and South Africa, but handles mainly Thai patients.

The early days, though, were frustrating. "We wrote to various government organizatio