Improving lives in three dimensions: 3D-printed prostheses in Sierra Leone

According to the World Health Organization and the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics, an estimated 0.5% of the global population in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) require prostheses or orthotics. There is an urgent global need for affordable prostheses.
In Sierra Leone, the vast majority of people still do not have access to prostheses due to a lack of knowledge, availability of materials, trained staff and high costs. As a result, people often feel incomplete, which can lead to jealousy, bullying, insecurity, and depression. It is expected that having a prosthesis will let them blend in with the rest of the society and give them confidence.
Access to 3D printing, even in its most basic form, can provide a useful and essential tool for manufacturing locally relevant medical aids, such as braces, splints and prostheses.
In collaboration with the 3D lab at the Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, we set up a 3D lab in Masanga Hospital, Sierra Leone. Here we train and teach the local population to produce low-cost 3D-printed arm and leg prostheses.
Competitively priced, fully functional prostheses can be locally produced, and improve the lives and wellbeing of people with an amputation.

  • Merel van der Stelt
  • Merel van der Stelt
  • Bernhard Rodenburg
  • Andrew Bristow
  • Merel van der Stelt
  • Merel van der Stelt
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Student
  • Runtime:
    5 minutes 2 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 28, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    0 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Sierra Leone
  • Country of Filming:
    Sierra Leone
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - Radboud University Medical Centre
Director Biography - Merel van der Stelt

From 2013 to 2020, I studied Technical Medicine at the University of Twente. In 2018/2019, during an internship at the Masanga Hospital in Sierra Leone in collaboration with the 3D lab of Radboud University Medical Centre. I did a first feasibility study to investigate the use of a 3D-printer in a resource-limited healthcare setting. Low-cost 3D-printed arm prostheses and other medical aids were produced.
During my graduation in 2020, I continued with this project. The question was whether we could also make 3D-printed lower leg prostheses. During this year we conducted clinical research in the Netherlands and Sierra Leone to test the low-cost 3D-printed transtibial prostheses.
After graduation, I continued to conduct research on 3D-printed prostheses for low- and middle-income countries as a PhD student at the 3D lab of Radboud University Medical Centre. Currently I have my own research group. Together with the students and the local population in Sierra Leone I am doing research to improve the prosthetic facilities in low- and middle- income countries.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

The aim of this video is to highlight the need for new sustainable technology in low-income countries across West Africa. The 3D-printed prostheses in this video are created in Sierra Leone using a digital workflow, standardising the production of the prostheses. This allows the project to sustainably train local medical staff to complete the prosthetic fitting, meaning the process becomes less dependent on the individual’s skill and experience.

The 3D technology transforms the lives of patients, as without the prosthetic the amputee patients sometimes face many challenges from the local community, work, and social circumstances. With the new 3D-printed prostheses they have confidence to go on to live meaningful lives in the region.