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3D prosthetic limbs come to Uganda

Losing a limb is painful and the challenge of finding, buying and fitting an artificial one can be almost as excruciating.

Rosaline Cheptoo, 3, was born without most of her right leg and has had to be carried around. Her brother, Sailas Akodumoi, was unsure of how to help her because he thought she had been bewitched. Fortunately, Cheptoo was identified and given medical assistance by a local NGO, Insieme Si Puo (ISP) based in the eastern district of Moroto in 2013.

She was taken to Amudat hospital and later referred to Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services in Uganda (CoRSU) located in Kawuku, on Entebbe road, for further treatment.

“We first came to CoRSU in May 2013 and the orthopedic surgeons told me that she had a sharp protruding born which needed to be operated to reshape it. We occasionally came back for checkup and on December 18, she was given a prosthetic leg. She can now play with others and I hope to take her to school this year,” Akodumoi told The Observer.

Cheptoo is the first child to benefit from a 3D manufactured prosthetic limb. This has been possible because of a 10-member team from the University of Toronto and Christian Blind Mission (CBM Canada) who set up 3D printers, trained five orthopedic technicians and test-fitted young patients with new 3D-printed prosthetic sockets at CoRSU between January 19 and 23.

“Many children have lost limbs due to severe bone infections, polio, injury and violent conflict. Thousands of them are going without prostheses they need because there aren’t enough orthopedic technicians to make and fit the prostheses,” said Mitch Wilkie, director of international programs at CBM and leader of the project team.

Why 3D?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that there is a shortfall of 40,000 prosthetic technicians in the developing world and it will take 50 more years to train another 18,000. Hence CBM Canada has partnered with the University of Toronto to use consumer-grade 3D printing and scanning technology to reduce the need for technicians in developing countries, by making it easier to make parts for prosthetic limbs.

Matt Ratto, a professor in the University of Toronto’s faculty of Information and the principal investigator of the project, told The Observer that 3D technology allows for a quick scan to digitize the limb before finally printing a customized socket within six to seven hours. However, the current process of fitting a child with a prosthetic limb is labor-intensive and may take up to six days to produce a socket.

“The traditional method involves wrapping an amputated limb with a plastic mold to first create a negative cast. Once that dries, plaster is poured into the negative cast to make a positive cast, which serves as a representation of the actual limb. Finally, a socket is molded around the positive cast, and can be used upon curing,” Ratto said.

The 3D scanning and printing technology will be officially launched in the country in October this year and will benefit children in distant areas who cannot afford to come to hospital all the time.

ninsiima@observer.ug

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