Prashant Gade from Madhya Pradesh is leveraging technology to give thousands of disabled a new lease on life. With his non-profit enterprise, Inali Foundation, Prashant provides low-cost prosthetic arms for free.
In India, over 40,000 people lose their upper arms every year, and 85% of them continue to live without any solution. A majority of this population come from underprivileged sections of society. An acute shortage of money keeps them away from integrating back into society, the lack of resources prevents them from leading their lives with dignity.
Journey of the Young Techie in search of his life’s purpose
Prashant grew up with an urge to find his purpose in life and create a social impact with his innovations. His grandfather motivated him to take up engineering and build a future for himself. However, after landing at an engineering college, his dreams of being an ace engineer broke into pieces. He recalls, “The education was all about cramming data and producing grades. There was no room for learning and creating.” Prashant went on to drop out of his college and moved to Pune in search of a job. It was then he found a job in Fab Labs for a monthly pay of Rs 5,000. Driven by a passion for working at labs, he took this job head-on and simultaneously pursued a six-month course called Fab Academy by MIT. Prashant had to do a project to complete his course. After he got to know about Nicolas Huchet, a person who lost his right arm and built his bionic arm, he decided to work along the same lines. Around the same time, he came across a seven-year-old girl in Pune who was born without arms. “It was sad to see the little girl in that condition. So, I decided to help him,” Prashant chips in. However, after approaching some hospitals, he discovered that it cost about Rs 12 lakhs for one hand. This was a revelation for him as it compelled him to think of feasible ways to help others. And so, he began to work on his personal project of developing a low-cost arm.
A call from an NGO in Jaipur took him to Pink city where he was paid to build the prototypes of the prosthetic arms under a tight budget. Since money was a big problem, Prashant looked for ordinary items to make the prototype. He used silicone grip fingertips from a hot water bag, a JCB toy lever to mimic the finger’s movement, and a badminton racket’s threads to work like muscles. All this for merely 75 USD. Soon, a retired professor from the USA recognised his potential and invited him to a conference. It was a turning point because they gifted him ten machines to work on his project of arms. And so, Prashant returned to India with the machines and set up the Inali Foundation.
Prosthetic Arms at Inali Foundation
Pune-based Inali Foundation provides affordable upper limbs to those who have lost them due to some unfortunate event. It majorly serves the people coming from poor strata of society and gives them prosthetic arms for free. The foundation provides several designs depending on the materials used and technology. Inali’s arms operate by detecting brain signals. The first design has a single button to open and close the palm, aiding in primary functions like drinking water and even writing. Another uses sensors placed on the hand that detect signals from the brain and directs the motors inside the arm to move accordingly. The third version is a gesture-based arm with a sensor connected to the ankle while the receiver is connected to the arm. Prashant has applied for the patent of the technology and is awaiting approval.
The prosthetic arms are similar to their expensive counterparts. However, their cost-effectiveness keeps them apart from the league. While the interior is made up of stainless steel and other lightweight metals, a mix of silicon and polyethene is used for the exterior. Silicon or PVC gloves are used on the top to give an aesthetic look. The arms must be charged for 2.5 hours, and they can run for 48 hours after that. They are durable for three years and come with a warranty of at least five years. They can easily lift 10 kg. The foundation has been providing prosthetic support to the poor and needy besides giving arms to others at a nominal cost. Prashant shares, “To this date, we have been able to help 5,000 people get their limbs. They are no longer disabled, but differently-abled.”
Little Moments of Happiness and Gratitude
Prashant’s family didn’t support him in his journey. He had to fend for himself before his parents accepted his desire to give something back to society. However, his interactions with his beneficiaries motivate him to stay put on his track. He recalls, “Once a lady came up to me after we gave her the arm. She began crying.” She thanked the young innovator and said that now, she could comb the hair of her daughter. “That day, I realised the value of giving back,” Prashant adds. He shared about an employee, Jeeto, who came to them three years ago to get an arm. After he got one, he asked the foundation for a job and three years down the line, he has been working with a sweet smile on his face. All these instances are the reason why Prashant looks forward to working hard and making the healthcare industry more affordable and accessible.