One of the many outcomes of the events of the past year has been the daily physical toll of injuries on Armenian veterans. As a current Birthright Armenia participant volunteering in Yerevan with oqni, I’m grateful to have learned about the growing and urgent need for prosthetics in Armenia and how Diasporan Armenians can get involved.
oqni is an NGO in the early research stages of developing leg prosthetics for war veterans and amputees. Though exact data is unconfirmed, it’s estimated that the 2020 Artsakh War contributed to a growing population of at least five thousand amputees in Armenia alone. In the US, there are more than 185,000 amputations annually and an estimated one million amputations worldwide with the majority of these being below-knee amputations (oqni’s specialty), representing 71-percent of dysvascular amputations. There was a 47-percent expected increase in below-knee amputations from 1995 to 2020; in other words, the amputee community has been growing over time, representing an ever-increasing need for prosthetics.
oqni was founded by an interdisciplinary team of Diasporan Armenians across the US, Canada, France, UK, Germany and Armenia. The aim has been to create a full cycle of AI-driven prosthetics with integrated rehabilitation support, produced and fitted in Armenia, in order to restore the capabilities of war veterans and amputees at no cost to the patient.
“We are helping amputees in a sustainable way, so thinking long-term, […] what’s going to happen in three years’ time, four years’ time, five years’ time, and not just thinking about the immediate need,” explained oqni CEO Hajk Bagradjans. oqni’s goal is the complete reintegration of veterans and amputees back into society and to reinforce their self-confidence through educational initiatives and mental health support. oqni aspires to create world-class products and services in Armenia, ultimately exporting our products abroad to share our local expertise and talent.
“oqni is thinking about innovation, so what we really want to create here in Armenia is an innovation hub for prosthetics and assistive technology and such,” said Bagradjans, who went on to say that oqni’s goal is to help people around the world with its locally developed technology, by leveraging “innovative solutions involving AI, 3D printing to really put us on the world map of next-generation prosthetics and R&D.”
oqni is currently leveraging cutting-edge technology and innovative research programs alongside renowned partners and experts from across the globe (such as TUMO Labs, which is funded by the European Union, and the University of Michigan) to develop bionic and biomechanical prosthetics, as well as prosthetic covers. As a data analytics professional with a mathematics and STEM background, I am fascinated by what I’ve learned about the technology involved in this industry. One of oqni’s unique components is the 3D printing technology it is leveraging to research and eventually develop prosthetic covers and legs. “This project will bring advanced bioengineering knowledge from the leading experts in the field and introduce production hi-tech to Armenia,” noted Sargis Zeytunyan, a co-leader of the TUMO Labs team that specializes in the research and development of mechanical prosthetics.
My role as a volunteer at oqni is a project manager focused on fundraising. oqni has launched an online fundraiser, primarily for prototyping and development of the minimum viable products for the prosthetic covers and the biomechanical prosthetics. “Even if it’s five dollars, if it’s ten dollars, it still allows us to go as far as we can with what we know and what we have,” said oqni COO Haikouhi Oroudjian, who also urged Diasporans to spread the word and take interest in the life-changing impact of these prosthetics for Armenian wounded soldiers and the community at large.