3D printers getting Ugandan amputees back on their feet
Doctors amputated Ugandan schoolboy Jesse Ayebazibwe’s right leg when he was hit by a truck while walking home from school three years ago.
Afterward he was given crutches, but that was all, and so he hobbled about. “I liked playing like a normal kid before the accident,” the nine-year-old said.
Now an infrared scanner, a laptop and a pair of 3D printers are changing everything for Jesse and others like him, offering him the chance of a near-normal life.
“The process is quite short, that’s the beauty of the 3D printers,” said Moses Kaweesa, an orthopaedic technologist at Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services (CoRSU) in Uganda which, together with Canada’s University of Toronto and the charity Christian Blind Mission, is making the prostheses.
“Jesse was here yesterday, today he’s being fitted,” said Kaweesa, 34.
In the past, the all-important plaster cast sockets that connect prosthetic limbs to a person’s hip took about a week to make, and were often so uncomfortable people ended up not wearing them.
Plastic printed ones can be made in a day and are a closer, more comfortable fit.
The scanner, laptop and printer cost around US$12,000 (10,600 euros), with the materials costing just US$3 (2.65 euros).
Ayebazibwe got his first, oldstyle prosthesis last year but is now part of a trial that could lead to the 3D technology changing lives across the country.
The technology is only available to a few, however, and treatment for disability in Uganda in general remains woeful.
“There’s no support from the government for disabled people,” said Kaweesa. “We have a disability department and a minister for disabled people, but they don’t do anything.”
There are just 12 trained prosthetic technicians for over 250,000 children who have lost limbs, often due to fires or congenital diseases.
The 3D technology is portable and allows technicians to work on multiple patients at a time, increasing the reach of their life- changing intervention.
“You can travel with your laptop and scanner,” said Kaweesa, adding that the technology could be of great use in northern Uganda, a part of the country where many people lost limbs during decades of war between the government and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, who specialized in chopping off limbs.
After receiving his first 3D socket Ayebazibwe was overjoyed. “I felt good, like my normal leg,” he said. “I can do anything now — run and play football.”
The boy’s 53-year old grandmother, Florence Akoth, looks after him, even carrying him the two kilometers (miles) to school after his leg was crushed and his life shattered. She too is thrilled.
“Now he’s liked at school, plays, does work, collects firewood and water,” said Akoth, who struggles to make ends meet as a poorly paid domestic worker caring for five children.
Ugandan schoolboy Jesse Ayebazibwe, 9, sits next to his 3D-printed artificial limb at the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services Uganda (CORSU) in Wakiso on April 24.