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Research in masanga

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Already three weeks in Masanga. Time flies! The first week we had a “small problem” with the inverter of the 3D-printers. So we had to take care of this problem first, before we were able to start 3D-printing.
From the start we arrived, several patients were already asking for the prostheses within the Masanga village. Later that week I found out that the word of mouth was getting around in the surrounding areas. People from villages further and further away were coming to the hospital to ask for a prosthesis.
The list of patients is growing, and there are already 12 patients scheduled in the upcoming weeks. I try to keep the project small in Sierra Leone, however, that is difficult in a country where the demand for affordable medical devices exceeds the supply. This means that we have to put people on the waiting list.
For our research, it is important to collect reliable data about the use of the prostheses and the impact on people’s lives. This is challenging with a patient group in which the majority do not speak English, are not literate, and have never been to school. We therefore need to adapt validated questionnaires to the local African culture to make the questionnaires more reliable. This may seem easy. But simple questions about estimating time and distances or whether someone can climb stairs are difficult when someone has never seen stairs before. Questions about depression may be interpreted differently, because many people do not know what depression means.
Luckily, I don’t have to perform the research and the production of the prostheses by myself. Issa and Aminata, the local research nurses are helping me with the questionnaires. Osman, my most trusted colleague, is helping me with assembling the prostheses, making the liners, and customizing the prostheses. Idrissah, the physiotherapist at the Masanga hospital, is a great help and as a team, we teach people to take their first steps again. Producing the prostheses goes well and fast. However, people need to learn to walk again and that takes most afford.
When you’re here in Masanga, it is sometimes difficult to put research as a priority when you see so many people needing prostheses. I have to balance between the higher goal of our research; which is to make a real difference in the future, and on the other side, changing the individual lives of people who have had amputations and are in need of a prosthesis. I find this difficult, but it is our goal that they no longer need me here and the project can be carried out independently by the local people. This takes a lot of time and preparation, but step by step we will get there!
On the pictures: two participants who received a 3D-printed prosthesis. They proudly wear the shoes we received donated from the Dutch national volleyball team. And Osman, making the liners for the prostheses.