International Collaboration Defines 2011 United Forum

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The 2011 United Forum of the Americas was a rare opportunity to share experiences and ideas in an international, and yet relatively intimate, setting. Speakers, exhibitors, and attendees representing 19* countries gathered February 13-16 in San José, Costa Rica, for the event, which drew approximately 300 attendees. This year's Forum was a partnership between the U.S. National Member Society of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (USISPO), Uniting Frontiers, and the ISPO national member societies of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico, in cooperation with The O&P EDGE.

"The planning committee concurred that the conference met its goal to provide collaboration, networking opportunities, and high-quality prosthetic and orthotic rehabilitation content for developing-nation professionals and students who might not otherwise have access to the type of continuing education offered at the United Forum," said Dianne Farabi, USISPO administrative services provider, noting that many of the attendees were young practitioners and students from Central and South America.

José Paul Rodriguez, president of the Dominican Republic ISPO national member society, greets attendees during the opening session.

After the morning educational sessions, attendees were free to relax or go on excursions. The Costa Rica National Theater is a hallmark of the San José city tour.

With both English and Spanish translation provided for the general sessions, presenters could speak in their native language and yet be understood by everyone. The general sessions, certification workshops, and live demonstrations ranged in topic from bionic technology to wheelchairs for children with cerebral palsy and a review of O&P educational programs in Central and Latin America. The open forum generated stimulating discussions and diverse questions and comments about the future of O&P in Central and Latin America, as well as suggestions for future meetings and approaches to cooperation between countries.

The exhibit hall showcased a sell-out number of sponsors and vendors including manufacturers and distributors of the latest technologies, as well as those that provide services and products more appropriate for developing countries. "I was particularly intrigued by a four-bar knee that was developed and shown by Limbs International, which provides a stable functional knee that can be made for $20 on-site in a developing country," Jon Batzdorff, CPO, said.

"At any time there were stimulating conversations on every possible professional topic in front of exhibits, during the Q&A time at the end of each talk, over coffee, or even in the bar," Batzdorff added. "For example, I caught up with Dennis Janisse, CPed, in the hotel lounge, and the next thing I knew, he pulled out a custom sandal made out of recycled inner tubes. He had taught people in Mali to make them for less than $2.50 a pair, and they could be fit to all kinds of injured or debilitated feet."

It was clear that although the cultures, languages, economies, and customs may differ from North America to Latin America to the Caribbean and beyond, the desire to provide the best possible patient care was shared by everyone.

*Countries represented at the United Forum for the Americas included Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.

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