Fighting lifelong disability in developing countries through innovation: A tale of 4 medical devices by Engineers in Scrubs

Fighting lifelong disability in developing countries through innovation: A tale of 4 medical devices by Engineers in Scrubs

The Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedic Program (USTOP) and CHHM were proud to host Hajji Hassan Nakabaale from the office of Uganda's Office of Economic and Investment Affairs. Hassan was here to learn more about 4 exciting medical devices developed by Engineers in Scrubs in partnership with Ugandan surgeons for use in low resource hospital settings.

Hassan invited the Engineers in Scrubs team to submit business proposals to the Ugandan government offering incentives to expedite the import of the 4 medical devices into Uganda.

  • Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
    Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
  • Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
    Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
  • Wound Closure teams discussing the potential for their device
    Wound Closure teams discussing the potential for their device
  • Screw Cutter Team demonstrates their device to Hassan
    Screw Cutter Team demonstrates their device to Hassan
  • Drill Cover Team shows the benefits of including their device in Ugandan operating rooms
    Drill Cover Team shows the benefits of including their device in Ugandan operating rooms
  • All 4 teams with Hajji Hassan Nakaballe from the Ugandan office of Economic & Investment Affairs
    All 4 teams with Hajji Hassan Nakaballe from the Ugandan office of Economic & Investment Affairs
  • Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
    Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
  • Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
    Demonstration of the low-cost above elbow prosthetic device
  • Wound Closure teams discussing the potential for their device
    Wound Closure teams discussing the potential for their device
  • Screw Cutter Team demonstrates their device to Hassan
    Screw Cutter Team demonstrates their device to Hassan
  • Drill Cover Team shows the benefits of including their device in Ugandan operating rooms
    Drill Cover Team shows the benefits of including their device in Ugandan operating rooms
  • All 4 teams with Hajji Hassan Nakaballe from the Ugandan office of Economic & Investment Affairs
    All 4 teams with Hajji Hassan Nakaballe from the Ugandan office of Economic & Investment Affairs

The need is urgent.

As the economies of developing nations like Uganda, so do the amount of vehicles on the road which is associated with a dramatic rise in traffic-related crashes, injuries and deaths. According to the World Health Organization "The estimated annual cost of road traffic injuries is more than US$ 500 billion, which far exceeds the total global expenditures in developmental assistance. For every death from a road traffic crash, there are many more hospitalizations, emergency department visits and injuries, often leading to permanent disability." (WHO, Gosselin et. al., 2009)

For the people who need these surgeries, the result can be lifelong disability, and if the ability to work is limited, lifelong poverty may not be far behind. According to the same World Health Organization study, "the socioeconomic impact of injury-related disability is magnified in low-income countries, where there are often poorly developed trauma care and rehabilitation systems."

So again, the need for clever, low-cost medical devices to alleviate the threat of lifelong disability in the wake of devastating injury is pressing.

Hassan saw demontrations of 4 such devices, some already in use in hospitals around the world:

1. Above-Elbow Prosthetic

The Above-Elbow Prosthetics team is striving to design a low-cost, simple and intuitive above-elbow prosthetic which enables basic elbow functions for amputees to regain independence in their daily living. The device utilizes an exiting below-elbow prosthesis from the Ellen Meadows Foundation with a newly developed elbow joint. This complete system makes it possible for amputees to reach, eat, write, and provide support throughout various tasks. 

Motor vehicle accidents are one of the highest causes of severe upper limb injury where amputation becomes the only surgical solution to prevent spread of infection. For many people with this type of traumatic injury, access to a simple prosthetic limb would enable users to perform basic everyday tasks to improve their quality of life significantly. In developing countries there is a need for a functional low-cost above-elbow prosthetic because its availability is limited due to its complexity.

2. Wound Closure Device

The Wound Closure Project is aimed at designing a medical device intended to accelerate wound closure following orthopaedic trauma surgery in low resource settings. Open wounds are commonly caused by open fractures, often a result of motor vehicle accidents. The wounds remain open due to swelling, lack of tissue for closure, or a combination of the two. When resources permit, artificial or grafted skin flaps can be used to achieve primary closure.

Acceleration of closure with the wound closure device will help reduce the rate of infection and morbidity. The device is also intended to help patients leave the hospital sooner, allowing them to return to their families and jobs. The device is simple and low-cost so that after it has been put in place by a surgeon, patients can return home with the device and use it independent of health care providers.

3. Screw Cutter Project

The Screw Cutter helps surgeons create custom screws to treat injuries when vital surgical screws are unavailable. At first glance it looks like a long arm stapler but its function has the potential to revolutionize orthopaedic surgeries all over the world.

The Screw Cutter turns a tray of randomly sized screws into the precise sized screw needed for the patients’ body. It finishes a screw with a tip that gives the screw traction, enabling it to be screwed into the bone easier, alleviating pain for the patient and making it easier for the surgeon to complete the surgery with accuracy and ease. Learn more.

4. Drill Cover

Developed by Arbutus Medical, Drill Covers seal hardware store drills, making them safer for surgery and easy to sanitize. The Drill Covers greatly increase the number of trauma surgeries Ugandan surgeons can do in a given week, and greatly reduce the amount of headache in their work as they must either compete with other surgeons for expensive surgical drills or use laborious hand drills.

Each of these devices were developed at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. The engineers leading each of these projects have gone on to launch their devices as social innovations and are already having an impact in operating rooms and on patient recovery in low resource settings all over the world.