On his bike – to help others walk

Posted on February 22, 2013

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Rowan English, Head of Prosthetics and Orthotics

Rowan English: highlighting huge demand for prosthetics services in Southeast Asia

Health scientist Rowan English has set out on a 19,000 km motorcycle trip across Asia to raise awareness of the pressing need for artificial limbs in many Southeast Asian countries.

Mr English, Head of La Trobe University’s National Centre for Prosthetics and Orthotics, this week kick-started a four-month journey from the Melbourne campus to Kobe in Japan, stopping at universities and colleges in Southeast Asia on the way.

He also hopes to highlight the work done by charities such as the Cambodia Trust, Handicap International and the Red Cross.

These organisations, he says, aim to increase the mobility and functional skills of people with disabilities. This often involves providing access to prosthetics and orthotics services, and training skilled practitioners in the field.

‘La Trobe is the only university with this level of prosthetics and orthotics program in the southern hemisphere,’ says Mr English. ‘Given the need for expertise in this area in Southeast Asia, La Trobe can continue to play a role in helping develop this knowledge.

Mr English with a third-year student at the University

‘Landmines and unexploded ordinance have been a big issue in Cambodia and Laos since the 1970s, leading to huge demand for prosthetics services,’ he says.

Developing new partnerships 

‘Now it’s not just landmines, but also an increase in traffic accidents in Cambodia, as the cities become increasingly modernised and crowded.’

He will also visit a number of universities and colleges, including in Jakarta, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh, as part of his journey.

Mr English aims to continue to develop partnerships that allow students from countries such as Cambodia to come to Australia to continue to their studies, and also provide opportunities for La Trobe students to study or undertake placements in Southeast Asia.

La Trobe has had a partnership with a college in Phnom Penh, offering distance education to students from a range of countries to help them develop skills and expertise in prosthetics and orthotics.

But while there is a work component to the trip, he says it is also about enjoying the experience of what is bound to be a challenging trip. The journey culminates a decade of daydreaming and two years of planning.

‘It combines my passions for travel, meeting people and riding motorbikes, as well as my profession of prosthetics and orthotics.’

Mr English grew up in Finley, NSW. Accompanying him will be his childhood friend, Bruce Taig. Both men grew up on farms and have been riding motorbikes since they were kids.

They are sure to have their skills tested as they travel to Darwin, on to Dili, then through Timor Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, South Korea and Japan. –   Suzi Macbeth

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