Designing low-cost prosthetics

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Peter_Rohloff
Peter Rohloff has training in parasitology, internal medicine and pediatrics. He practices in Boston, MA at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital. Since 2003, Peter has been working in Guatemala, where he serves as the medical director for a health systems NGO – Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance. Peter’s interests include the management of chronic diseases of children and adults in resource poor settings and how indigeneity, cultural, and language barriers impact access to and utilization of health care. @wuqukawoq
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IMG_3144I’ve had the opportunity this month to participate in a really delightful inter-institutional collaboration in Guatemala between our primary care organization, Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance, and a nonprofit design studio, called Bump.

I know some of the people at Bump design studio from connections at the University of Illinois, since both our organizations have strong connections there. Bump is an innovative group of motivated, socially-conscious engineers and designers who have been working diligently over the last several years to come up with low-cost solutions to benefit people in developing countries with disabilities.

As most of you will appreciate from your own experiences working in developing countries, the issues faced by those with disabilities or special health care needs are often extreme. These issues include both problems with public infrastructure (lack of disability-adapted public transportation, sidewalks, lavatories, etc) as well as rehabilitation resources (prosthetics for amputees, physical therapy after debilitating illness or accidents, etc). As life expectancies and access to basic medical care improve, care for those with disabilities is emerging as one of the urgent human rights needs in developing countries.

Bump this month launched their first “appropriate technology” product in Central America, which is an innovative prosthetic device for individuals who have sustained transradial (below the elbow) amputations. The novel thing about this prosthesis is that it is made of a flexible plastic core, which can be sized and fitted on the spot. In other words, it completely circumvents the whole problem of needing to mold a prosthetic device to an individual patient’s residual limb (a process which is time and labor-intensive, and very expensive; not to mention that it has to be repeated every time the patient gains or loses weight). The prosthesis can be fitted in the patient’s home (or any rural clinic environment) in just a few minutes.

Best of all, medical teams who do not have experience fitting standard prosthetics can learn how to fit this device themselves. In other words, prosthetics fitting can be adapted to the rural primary care environment, with almost no required infrastructure or expertise.

Wuqu’ Kawoq hosted Bump a couple weeks back to fit our first patient with a prosthetic. The patient was a young woman who had sustained a right transradial amputation after a severe forearm burn. Within a matter of minutes, she was using her prosthesis to wash clothing, use a broom, and engage in other common household tasks.

Kudos to Bump for this innovative design, which I hope catches on throughout Central America and, indeed, around the world. We look forward ourselves to implementing the device widely in our catchment area.

It’s so refreshing to see out of the box thinking produce such simple, low cost, and high-value technology! I’ve posted more photos of the fitting process here.

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