He did not resign to poverty, or polio! Disregarding fate, he took things in his own hands and, with a strong belief that he would succeed, began working on designing prosthetics to help him — and others like him — move comfortably and with dignity.
The story of Aneesh Karma, an innovator from BETiC, IIT-Bombay, winner of the 10th NCPEDP Mphasis Universal Design Awards, is, simply put, one of courage.
Coming from a humble background, born to illiterate parents, Aneesh was afflicted by polio in childhood. His innovation, the knee ankle-foot orthosis (KAFO) offers a solution for those affected by polio, paralysis, cerebral palsy, neuro-muscular disorders and accidents.
The device is superior to the free drop-lock callipers provided by the government. Drop-lock callipers are uncomfortable and stiff and do not allow such activities as climbing stairs, boarding vehicles, or cycling. They weigh 3 kg and result in abnormal gait.
Aneesh’s KAFO is versatile, with a 135-degree angle flexion for squatting, walking and cycling. It weighs only 1.3 kg and can provide support to an individual weighing up to 120 kg. Along with all of this, it is multiple-footwear compatible and affordable, too. Imported orthotics, with intelligent sensor systems that control the knee joint through pneumatics, linear springs, hydraulics and torsional rods, are too expensive.
On receiving the award, Aneesh, who has completed his education till Class XII, shared, “In India, there are 1.2 million polio patients, while, in the world, there are over a 100 million of them with cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis. However, only 40,000 calipers are supplied each year in India by ALIMCO, BMVSS & NSS because it is very expensive.”
In 2015, Aneesh filed a patent with the help of the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC). In 2018, Aneesh joined the BETiC Lab to further develop his design of the advanced knee ankle-foot orthosis. He went on to file his second patent in the same year and bagged the BIG Idea Summit, 2018, Award. In 2019, Aneesh won the BIRAC Biotechnology Ignition Grant.
He is now looking to develop prosthetics for individuals with spinal conditions, besides incubating a start-up company to scale up innovation in order to benefit others.
‘The mechanically actuated, stance-controlled KAFO is an innovation with potential. It gives independence to those with impaired mobility and allows them to earn a livelihood and live with dignity’
— Arman Ali, ED-NCPEDP
‘Even 72 years after Independence, 78 % of these products are imported. Indigenous medical device innovations, such as KAFO, can bridge this gap’
- Prof B Ravi, Aneesh’s mentor at BETiC-IIT, Bombay
‘I couldn’t finish my education because of our poor financial condition. But I didn’t want to bow down to fate. Any kind of disability shouldn’t become an obstacle to success. It was my dream to invent better calipers for myself and others like me’
— Aneesh Karma