3D Sierra Leone
Pilot 3D lab at Masaga Hospital
There is a huge unmet global need for affordable medical aids in low- and middle-income countries. In 2018 we set up a pilot 3D lab in the Masanga Hospital in Sierra Leone to investigate the added value of 3D technology in rural settings. We design and perform follow-up of 3D-printed prostheses for the people in need. This all resulted in the start of our foundation 3D printing in developing countries. In collaboration with the 3D Lab at the Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and the Masanga Hospital in Sierra Leone we have scientifically proven that 3D techniques make the production process of prostheses more consistent and faster.
The need of protheses
Amputations often happen in Sierra Leone due to serious infections, complex wounds, traffic accidents, and a delayed patient presentation to the hospital. However, purchasing a prosthesis is still beyond reach for most Sierra Leonean amputees.
Currently, the measurement of the residual limb and the production of the socket of prostheses are performed manually using plaster molds. Which makes the socket shape highly dependent on the experience and skills of the prosthetist; this implies difficulty in quality assurance.
Added value of 3D-printing in rural areas
We apply 3D-scanning and 3D-printing to produce low-cost prosthetics. Using this techniques, the production process is consistent and faster. Newly developed software using Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is the next step to automate the prosthetic workflow. Using previously obtained 3D scans from orthopedic companies in the Netherlands, A.I. algorithms can be made using machine learning. Using A.I.-based software it is expected that the prosthetic fit will become less dependent on the prosthetist’s skills. Furthermore, local people can be trained in a short period.
Scientific research in 3D printing of prostheses
In recent years, we have conducted several studies to investigate the added value of 3D technology in resource-limited healthcare setting. In 2018/2019, we started with producing low-cost 3D-printed arm prostheses, custom made splints and braces. In 2020 we continued doing research on low-cost 3D-printed leg prostheses.
Together with our research group of Technical Medicine, Industrial design, Mechanical engineering, and Biomedical engineering students from the University of Twente, TU Delft, and Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen, we are conducting research at the Radboudumc 3D Lab to improve the leg and arm prostheses and testing the design on Dutch patients first.
Within the framework of the project in Sierra Leone, we try to recruit and train as many local staff as possible, with the objective that this project can be carried out independently by the local workers in the future. This is not a problem for most manual labour and physiotherapy training. However, designing and 3D printing a prosthetic socket is still a process that requires specific skills, which is difficult to obtain for people with minor education and limited computer knowledge. This results in a need for automation and simplification of the digital designing process and strategic investment into a structured training program. There is a close collaboration with the national rehabilitation programme of the ministry of health in Sierra Leone for setting up this project and training courses.