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The War Amps is committed to improving the quality of life for Canadian amputees.

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War Amps supports call for prosthetic funding reform in Alberta

OTTAWA, November 2, 2021 – The War Amps is supporting a call by Alberta amputees and advocates to reform prosthetic funding in the province.

The situation was recently highlighted by CBC Edmonton, which reported on Angela Oakley’s struggle to receive funding from the Alberta Aids to Daily Living (AADL) program for the artificial limb prescribed by her medical professionals after losing her leg to a bone infection.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen countless similar cases,” said Alexis McConachie, who directs The War Amps Advocacy Program. “We’re certain that the average Albertan would be shocked to know that if they or a family member lose a limb, they could be faced with a personal balance of thousands of dollars for even the most basic artificial limb that will restore only a semblance of their previous function.”

Alberta Health spokesperson Carolyn Gregson responded in an interview last month that, the “Alberta Aids to Daily Living program is intended to meet basic needs to help Albertans remain independent.”

McConachie points out that this statement does not reflect the reality of the impact of Alberta’s policy towards amputees. “In our many years of experience, we would stress that, in Alberta and indeed across the country, both public and private funding agencies create and adhere to policies that do not reflect a realistic assessment of living with amputation, and that these inadequate policies prevent amputees from being able to access prosthetic care that is medically prescribed and essential to their everyday functionality.”

For those who cannot afford to pay thousands out of pocket, few alternatives exist. For many, crowdfunding has proven necessary, a veritable canary in the coal mine pointing to a distressing state of affairs for Canada’s healthcare system. It is also only a stop-gap solution, given that amputees will understandably be reluctant or simply unable to repeatedly appeal to friends and family for the subsequent replacement limbs they will need during their lifetime.

“It is unimaginable in the 21st century that seriously disabled amputees would have to rely on their families and communities in this way to cope with the basic financial requirements,” said McConachie.

“Hence, as part of The War Amps Crusade for Reform for prosthetic funding, we endeavour to hold all funding agencies, including Alberta’s, to a full accounting on material issues and, case by case, challenge inadequate funding where required,” McConachie said.


Access to Funding: A Systemic Problem Across Canada

Due to Canada’s constitutional framework, healthcare is a provincial responsibility. The Canada Health Act mandates that all provinces must cover the cost of “essential healthcare services,” defined as those administered by doctors in hospitals. Anything outside of essential services are deemed to be provided “at the discretion of the province.”

As a result, provinces and territories in Canada have used their discretionary authority to create no less than 13 different public regimes for covering the cost of prosthetic care. Some provinces offer no funding at all, unless the amputee is on social assistance. For those that do provide funding, each one of these systems fails in a unique (and creative) manner to adequately respond to the reality of living with amputation and relying on prosthetic care. As a result, the lack of access to quality mobility aids, devices and assistive technology at an affordable cost remains a barrier to accessibility for Canadian amputees.

While the up-front cost of an appropriate, medically necessary prosthesis appears expensive, in the long term it will save costs. Prostheses have been demonstrated to increase safety and security, and to reduce the incidence of additional conditions associated with amputation. Subsequently, a decrease in concurrent conditions translates to a decrease in the costs associated with them.

Unfortunately, public and private funding agencies do not realize this economic consequence when they create limiting prosthetic policies or issue coverage denials. Indeed, the choice is to pay now for the prosthesis, or pay later for the additional health issues.

A UN Violation

It is The War Amps position that Canada is in violation of its international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Brian Forbes, Chair of the Executive Committee of The War Amps, points out that “Article 20 of this convention clearly provides that state parties must take steps to facilitate access to quality mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, including making them available at affordable costs, to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities.”

Canada ratified this Convention in 2010, while seeming to completely overlook this international legal obligation. Amputees, and others who rely on assistive technology for their mobility, do not have access to the mobility aids they need at an affordable price.

“Canada’s failure to appropriately fund artificial limbs for amputees is even more shameful when we consider that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified artificial limbs as a “Priority Assistive Product” through the GATE Initiative (Global Co-operation on Assistive Technology),” said Forbes.

“If Canada were to truly follow through on their commitment as a signatory to this convention, it is our position that they would be obligated to make sweeping changes to funding for artificial limbs across the country,” he said. “As it stands, there is little doubt that this Convention remains an important and underutilized tool to improve funding for artificial limbs in Canada.”

The War Amps has a longstanding status of a non-governmental organization in the United Nations Human Rights system and has brought a number of claims to United Nations committees to gain proper recognition of significant human rights violations affecting Canada’s Thalidomide survivors, Hong Kong veterans, and Indigenous veterans.

Forbes concluded: “Should Canada and the individual provinces fail to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by providing adequate and equitable funding to assist Canadian amputees, we will not hesitate to initiate appropriate action in accordance with the human rights protocols available under this UN convention so as to compel Canada to live up to its international legal obligations.

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For More Information

Danita Chisholm
Executive Director, Communications
1 877 606-3342