Surgical resident Lars Brouwers brings aid to Sierra Leone by providing training and materials in 3D printed functional prostheses to local citizens.
Between 1991 and 2002, a civil war took place in Sierra Leone that left hundreds of innocent citizens with life-changing injuries.
To support those affected by the loss of their limbs, there are many aid initiatives which supply 3D printed functional prosthesis. Unfortunately, their effectiveness is limited because they operate from overseas, designing and shipping prostheses from afar.
Surgical resident Lars Brouwers, of Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, and PhD-candidate of the Elisabeth-Tweesteden Hospital, the Netherlands, is convinced of a better way to bring aid to Sierra Leone.
Having already researched 3D printing in a trauma hospital at Elisabeth-Tweesteden, Lars Brouwers decided to bring the technology to Sierra Leone himself, to provide knowledge and materials to local citizens in need.
Brouwers prepared for his journey by developing prosthetic designs which could be easily 3D printed. Packing an Ultimaker 2+ and enough material to last a whole year, he and colleague Dr. Wouter Nolet — a tropical doctor in training — undertook a three-week road trip.
They started in the Netherlands, passing through Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, eventually reaching their destination; the Lion’s Heart Medical Centre in Sierra Leone.
Providing faster, cost-effective aid to Sierra Leone
When Brouwers and Nolet arrived at Lion’s Heart, the response by local prosthetic engineers to the new 3D printing technology was positive. Locals were eager to be trained in its use as an alternative to creating prostheses by hand.
The unrest in Sierra Leone had left the whole country with a damaged infrastructure, however, which meant power failures are frequent. The Ultimaker 2+ needed to be installed in a location with a reliable power supply. Fortunately, the clinic had been fitted with a special uninterrupted solar power supply to mitigate any power outages, which is where the printer was installed.
With the setup complete, and the necessary tools and training in place for locals to continue rebuilding, Brouwers returned to the Netherlands. Nolet remains in Sierra Leone as part of his medical training. Nolet, the local team, Brouwers, and the 3D lab at the Radboud University Medical Centre keep in contact via email and Whatsapp, to help with the handover and adoption of the technology.
Local specialists can send pictures of any necessary parts they need, where Brouwers and the 3D lab will digitally model and transmit designs back to Sierra Leone. Once received, they are printed on site. The goal of the project is still to empower the locals to work independently, however. Brouwers and Nolet expect the transition process to take a few years.
In recognition of their work, Brouwers and Nolet have also been nominated for the Albert Schweitzer award 2018.