Seven percent of the population of Zimbabwe has some form of disability, which amounts to 900,000 people. That’s according to Bo Simango, a Zimbabwe native who now works with an initiative based at the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in Canada. Simango has an engineering background and has worked in several fields including energy, Arctic vessel development and healthcare, but healthcare is the one he found most inspiring and decided to pursue further, as he tells 3DPrint.com. He is now the Assistive Technology and Outreach Lead for MUN MED 3D, a medical student-led initiative dedicated to the use of 3D printing technology for medical purposes.
“I am leading a project to provide 3D printed prosthetic hands for children in Zimbabwe, my country of origin,” Simago tells us. “My prime goal is to engage other 3D printing enthusiasts, to start a conversation regarding international collaborations and share our journey to inspire others in other parts of the world.”
Started one year ago by students Stephen Ryan and Michael Bartellas, the organization regularly works with faculty, medical residents, and multiple medical disciplines, including cardiac surgery, anesthesia, emergency medicine, orthopedics and more. They’re also very active in terms of outreach, and right now, their focus is on Zimbabwe. At the end of April, MUN MED plans to hold a Hand-A-Thon, which will invite 40 high school students from the region to assemble 3D printed hands for disabled Zimbabwean children. The 3D printed prosthetic hands will then be given to the Ministry of Health.
Simango will also travel to Zimbabwe to assist the recipients with fitting and learning to use their prosthetic hands, which he has shown them examples of through videos. The children are excited – some of them have already labeled their new appendages as “Iron Man hands,” he told CBC News. The team look to be using designs from e-NABLE for the 3D printed hands.The kids in Zimbabwe, who range in age from 10 to 18 years, aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the project. The Newfoundland high school students who participate in the Hand-A-Thon will learn about 3D printing, prosthetic devices and the importance of outreach to others across the world.
In order to purchase enough materials and supplies for the Hand-A-Thon, as well as cover shipping costs for sending the hands to Zimbabwe, MUN MED has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1,000. At this point, they’re a little over halfway to their goal.
“The idea is to bring students together as they focus on giving back,” says Simango. “As a collective, we believe that nothing is as inspiring as young ones making a telling constructive contribution and fostering goodwill to other youth in developing nations.”
The parts for the prosthetics will be 3D printed by MUN MED, which recently acquired a LulzBot TAZ 6 and an Ultimaker 2+ thanks to a grant. Before that, they were using Ryan’s and Bartellas’ personal 3D printers. The goal is to 3D print a total of 15 hands, which will then be assembled by the high school students.
The Hand-A-Thon is the first to be held in the Newfoundland and Labrador region, and the MUN MED team is understandably quite excited about it, as are the high school students who will participate and, perhaps most of all, the children who will benefit from the team’s hard work. The Hand-A-Thon itself may be a one-day event, but the students and team members who participate will continue to follow the journey of the children they help, as Simango plans to document and share his work in Zimbabwe as the recipients learn to work with their new hands.
Eventually, the MUN MED team would like to move beyond prosthetic hands and start 3D printing arms and lower limbs – even bionic ones. If you’d like to donate to MUN MED’s campaign, you can do so here. You can also learn more about the MUN MED team members here, or follow their work on Twitter. Discuss in the Hand-A-Thon forum at 3DPB.com.