Unwanted mobility equipment that would otherwise be destined for the scrapheap is being redirected to Southern Africa as part of an initiative organised by Rotary International.
The humanitarian organisation’s Rushmoor branch is appealing for old or unused wheelchairs, zimmerframes, buggies and crutches that it can breathe new life into.
Items are repaired and issued through a local partner to people who need them free of charge.
More than 38,000 wheelchairs have been sent to Southern Africa since the first shipment in 1992 but the operation is keen to ensure it continues receiving inventory to support the ‘Freewheeling’ project.
The only stipulation is that it cannot collect equipment from users that has been loaned to them by the NHS.
The major part of the costs of shipping and repair are funded by the South African end of the operation via sponsorship.
The items collected are typically obsolete, redundant or scrapped by various health authorities and Red Cross loan centres or personal donations.
NHS regulations require that returned wheelchairs are inspected before reissue and labour costs together with poor availability of spare parts or changes to the rules often lead to premature scrapping.
Some of those classified as obsolete are, in fact, unused and are scrapped simply because they do not meet current regulations or a newer model has been developed.
Under UK health and safety regulations, certain repair methods such as welding are not allowed, increasing the number of scrapped chairs that could be recycled.
While some wheelchair repair units are resistant to donating the scrapped chairs to the project and the organisations’ rules insist that the chairs are physically destroyed. Many allow the organisation to collect them provided they are exported outside the EU.
Most of the chairs that Rotary International ships can be used “as is” or can be repaired cheaply in South Africa where the recipients are pleased to be given the chance of mobility and are unconcerned about aesthetics or European regulations.
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