26 August 2014

Uganda: 3D Technology to Ease Limb Replacement

Ugandans seeking to replace lost limbs with artificial ones (prosthetics) now have reason to smile.

The Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services in Uganda (CoRSU) is piloting a project to use 3D scanning and printing to rebuild sockets for limbs faster and cheaper than ever before, especially for children. It is partnering with the University of Toronto, led by Prof Matt Ratto and Christian Blind Mission (CBM), an international NGO.

At CoRSU's orthopaedic department, Mitch Wilkie, the director of international programmes at CBM-Canada, demonstrates how the technology works. He runs a handheld scanner around an outstretched arm which sends quick flashes of light at it.

Within 45 seconds, the scanner had created a fine image of the hand's shape on a computer next to him. It is this image that he works with, angling, creating grids and gauging size in order to create a socket that will later be printed using a 3D printer.

In prosthetics, the socket is the most crucial part because if it does not fit correctly, one may experience pain, sores and blisters, thus compromising movement.

"It takes a skilled technician about five days to construct a customized socket for the prosthetic to fit into. With 3D technology, this is dramatically reduced as it takes five minutes for the technician to work on the software and about three to six hours for printing," Wilkie said.

This new technology, which is being officially launched in the country in October 2015, will benefit children in distant areas who cannot afford to come to hospital all the time. Wilkie said the process can be carried out on site among communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is a 40,000 shortfall of prosthetic technicians in the developing world and it will take 50 years to train 18,000 more. CBM is investing $20,000 (approximately Shs 51m) into the pilot.

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