Improving Lives in Three Dimensions: The Feasibility of 3D Printing for Creating Personalized Medical Aids in a Rural Area of Sierra Leone

Merel van der Stelt, Arico C. Verhulst, Jonathan H. Vas Nunes, Throy A. R. Koroma, Wouter W. E. Nolet, Cornelis H. Slump,
Martin P. Grobusch, Thomas J. J. Maal, and Lars Brouwers

Abstract: The aim of this feasibility study was to investigate how a 3D printer could be put to its best use in a resource-limited healthcare setting. We have examined whether a 3D printer can contribute to making prostheses, braces or splints for patients who underwent major limb amputation due to complex wounds, e.g., due to burns and subsequent scarring, accidents, conflicts, or congenital abnormalities. During a three-month period, we investigated the benefits of customized, 3D-printed arm prostheses, splints and braces in Sierra Leone. Using a handheld 3D and a 3D printer, patient-specific medical aids were designed, manufactured and tested. Questionnaires regarding patient satisfaction and the functionality of the prostheses were used for a short-term follow-up. Four esthetic prostheses were designed: two prostheses of the hand, one of the forearm and one of the entire arm. Follow-ups were conducted after three to four weeks to investigate the quality of the prostheses and to complete a patient questionnaire. Even though the prostheses primarily fulfill esthetic needs, they also exhibit some degree of functionality. Additionally, four splints for hands and arms were made to prevent scar contractures after skin transplantation. Finally, a brace for a young boy with kyphoscoliosis was manufactured. The boy has accepted the brace and will be followed up with in the months to come. Long-term follow-up is required to prove the sustainability of the 3D-printed brace and prosthetic arms. Further research into how to sustain and refine this project is underway.