The two-day Conference on the Evolving Trends of Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies was a hybrid conference held on the 25th and 26th of November 2021 at Hotel Africana, Kampala Uganda.
There were over 200 individuals for both its virtual and physical attendance. Participants ranged from; stakeholders in Ugandan health sector, Ministry of Health, the National Medical Stores, academic researchers, medical professionals, orthopedic surgeons, Prosthetists, and Orthotists, to students and new personnel with a growing interest in the field.
The three sub-themes for this conference included; Lived Experiences, Improving the supply chain of Prosthetic and Orthotic devices and lastly, Technologies.
Under the Lived experiences sub-theme, various participants that need and use prosthetics and orthotics devices shared stories on their journey before and after articulation of their limbs.
Shared Experiences from Rehabilitation User Groups and Individuals
Ms. Alinyikira Kawula Mourine (2nd from Left in the picture below) presented about how she attained her amputation from a car accident. She stated the hardships and stigma she experienced since 2016, including it turning out to be her identity within her community. She quoted that.
“This is when the community gives you a name regarding your amputation and in addition, some even go ahead to use you as a scarecrow for younger children.”
Mr. Mark Giggs Kalibbala (2nd from Right in the picture below), with a 12-year spinal injury, also shared his story and the challenges of wheelchair access in Uganda, and how expensive it is to live life as a person with a disability, pointing out the need for reliable access points, universal and human-centered designing and friendly policies. Most significantly he stated how hard it is to access buildings and public transport.
Consequently, a medical personnel like Dr. Mwanje Geofrey an orthopedic surgeon at CoRSU (Comprehensive Rehabilitation services in Uganda) shared professional expertise on the causes of amputation to include:
- Tumours (to reduce tumour bulk or reduce its spread)
- Gangrene (dead tissue)
- Chronic ulcers and infections
- Trauma (severe crash injuries)
- Severe burns and post burn contractures
- Tissue sarcomas (osteosarcoma, neurofibromatosis, Ewing’s sarcoma, etc).
A tutor at the Uganda Institute of Allied Health Mulago, Mr. Gizamba Henry talked about the orthopedics technology occupation and its perspective regarding rehabilitation services. He also shared about the 19 orthopedic workshops in Uganda, which is a start towards improving access to rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. In addition, he also mentioned that through collaboration and partnership this field can be improved.
Presentations from Experts, Academicians and Stakeholders in the Healthcare and Technology Sector
Health sector representatives from National Medical Stores shared about the supply chain of Prosthetic and Orthortic devices alongside its challenges such as; financing, and the long procurement process arising from organizational bureaucracy. This evidently portrayed the gap in evolution of Prosthetic and Orthotic technologies, thus a need for stakeholders to come together and devise means to grow the field to address limiting factors such as Access to various assistive technologies.
The conference had presentations from Prof. Laurence Kenney from the University of Salford and Dr. Mohammad Sobuh from the University of Jordan, who are part of the Fit 4 Purpose project teams involved in the design of the appropriate prostheses for Low and Middle-income Countries. They shared the progress of the project as well as, the future of body-powered prostheses especially for upper limb loss. Emphasis was put on collaboration with local governments, workshops, conferences, trainings and interested parties were requested to produce more results.
As part of the technologies segment, a team from CoRSU shared a presentation on the current use of 3D printing to make sockets for prosthetic devices. They indicated that more research and training is needed to make 3D fabrication more sustainable. For the segment on Innovations in assistive and rehabilitation technologies, there were presentations from Ms. Kyomukama Moreen and Ms. Nabwami Anita, both Makerere University students who are designing a Vision Belt for totally blind people.
Ms. Martha Mulerwa, a PhD student at the University of Salford presented about her work in designing a wrist for the Ugandan Context as part of the Fit 4 purpose project. Lastly, Mr. Owino Solomon with team shared a presentation on a project that involves the design of an adjustable metal-aided traction orthotic lumbar Sacral brace to alleviate low back pain.
There were two conference breakaway sessions, with one on customization of assistive technologies by the Katalemwa Cheshire Home of Rehabilitation services, and the other on 3D printing and fabrication by CoRSU.
The breakaway session on customization involved a demonstration on the development, design and application of a car-braking and acceleration system for people with disabilities. The braking system allows disabled people such as paraplegics to brake using their hands instead of their feet.
In the same session later on, presenters shared about the design process of an artificial limb for children, that enables them perform day-to-day activities such as walking and playing football. It was noted that the current limitation was in attaining a desirable cosmetic look. With a similar prosthetic device currently costing 800,000 UGX on the Ugandan market, the presenters from Katalemwa shared that they were able to assemble one at only 150,000 UGX since children need 6-monthly replacements, hence subsidizing costs
Closing Remarks from the Organizing Committee
Assoc. Prof. Erisa Mwaka Sabakaki, who is this Project’s Principal Investigator (P.I) concluded the two day conference by thanking all partners, organisers and sponsors for getting involved and presenters for sharing their lived experiences.
He went ahead to encourage students to continue advertising their skill and maintain the necessary vibrancy in order to attract potential funders for future collaborations. He applauded the input by Dr. Robert Ssekitoleko for successfully revamping the Biomedical Engineering curriculum at Makerere University College of Health Sciences over the years. He encourages all sponsors to devise sustainability measures to improve the supply chain for rehabilitation and assistive technologies in Uganda