Dutch Physician Driving to Sierra Leone to Deliver 3D Printed Children’s Prosthetics and Ultimaker 3D Printer

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[Image: Lars Brouwers via Twitter]

You’d be hard-pressed to find a story about 3D printed children’s prosthetics that isn’t at least a little heartwarming, and today’s latest is no exception. 29-year-old Dr. Lars Brouwers, a physician who hails from Tilburg, the sixth largest city in the Netherlands, is on a mission to provide 3D printed prosthetic hands to children in Sierra Leone who have lost their own hands because of war violence. But that’s not all he’s doing – Dr. Brouwers is also personally delivering a popular desktop 3D printer, so that residents can learn how to use it themselves.

Earlier this month, Dr. Brouwers, together with a friend who lives and works in Africa as a tropical doctor, left the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (commonly known as Den Bosch) in a 1995 Saab for a three-week-long drive to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Once the two doctors arrive, they will be supporting the charitable international Global Minimum organization, and its Innovate Salone program for school children, with their 3D printed prosthetic hands.

Lars Brouwers with his Saab, which he is driving to Sierra Leone for charity. [Image: Maria van der Heyden, ETZ Photography & Film]

“Many children have only a wrist or forearm due to an abnormality before or during birth. Or they have lost a hand by war violence,” Dr. Brouwers explained. “The printer makes a complete hand prosthesis in one day with fingers that can move.”

A 3D printed hand by Lars Brouwers. [Image: Lars Brouwers]

Indestructible fishing wire, paired with hinges, will give users of the 3D printed prosthetic hands a way to solidly grip objects, such as bottles, and successfully pick them up.

We often see 3D printing used to help the residents of third world countries, like Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, gain better access to proper medical care as the technology can offer local creation of tools and prosthetics to help those impacted by war.

“It is important that developments in technology and innovation are also introduced in the third world,” said Dr. Brouwers. “By transferring our knowledge and the 3D printer, we want to contribute to healthcare. Otherwise, the differences with the prosperous countries will only increase.”

Thanks to an Ultimaker 3 that Dr. Brouwers is bringing with him, valued at €2,500 but donated free of charge by Ultimaker, he is working to lessen the technology gap between the rich and the poor. The donated 3D printer comes with spare parts and the necessary software, which can be replenished quickly from the Netherlands when necessary; Dr. Brouwers has even arranged for a technical help desk, in case users get stuck.

“Technical problems are often easy to remotely remedy, for example via the app,” Dr. Brouwers said. “And if it is very difficult, I can call on a befriended colleague in the Radboud UMC‘s 3D Lab.”

Dr. Brouwers, who received a Technical Innovation Award earlier this year for his 3D printing-related scientific study, believes that virtual reality and 3D printing technology will be of great value to future medical specialists. He will continue his doctoral research once he returns from Sierra Leone, and begins his training back home in the Netherlands as a surgeon in Nijmegen next month.

“I want to show that 3D printing works cost-effectively compared to normal care. I have been working on that for two years,” Dr. Brouwers said.

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