Concern celebrated this summer the official launch and handover of our new Maker Space to the University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park in Kenya. The newly-renovated workshop is equipped with 3D printing and industrial design and fabrication machines for designing low-cost, high quality medical devices for Kenya’s maternity wards.
At the launch, engineering students from the university and nurses from Kenyatta National Hospital’s labor and newborn units showed three medical devices they’ve designed together through our Maker Movement for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health program.
Read the stories of those working to develop homegrown solutions to Kenya’s medical equipment shortage.
Dr. John Ong’ech
Senior Director, Clinical Services; obstetrician & gynecologist, Kenyatta National Hospital
“If all a broken machine needs is a nut or a bolt that we can fabricate in the Maker Space, isn’t that something?”
When you go to the basement of Kenyatta National Hospital, you find a heap of broken equipment. And when you ask why something’s broken, you find out maybe a small nut or a bolt is missing, or it needs a spare part that must come from Germany or the U.S. or India or Singapore. It’s a small thing, and maybe the manufacturers say they have moved on to the next generation of that equipment.
Yet this equipment makes a difference in clinical healthcare. Something as simple as an examination light makes a huge difference in fixing postpartum hemorrhage, which is a mega killer. If you can’t see where a woman is bleeding from, she can die.
And if all a machine needs is a nut or a bolt that we can fabricate in the Maker Space and then it works, isn’t that something? You’ll be saving dollars, you’ll be saving lives. We have brilliant, well-trained health care workers — but much of the time, the tools of their job are missing. Maker is a very innovative project that is going to help fix this, and we can’t wait to see it going full scale and to start reaping the benefits.
Dr. Richard Ayah
Director, Science & Technology Park, University of Nairobi
“The nurses would come to the lab every couple of weeks… That way, the product really is something that is user-centered.”
In this project, there has been a lot of exchange between the users and the makers. The nurses and the biomedical engineers would come to the lab every couple of weeks and see what the students had done so far. They’d discuss and say, “I don’t like this; this knob is in the wrong place, this height is wrong.” Very simple things which the engineers perhaps would not recognize the first time around. That way, when you come up with a product, it really is something that is user-centered. It’s something that the user recognizes and helps them in their work. It’s better than being presented with a product.
As much as possible, what we have used are locally available materials and the products are locally fabricated. It’s really important for Kenya to innovate.
Assistant Supervisor, labor ward, Kenyatta National Hospital
“Here come engineers who are almost my children’s ages. Initially I thought, I’m not sure that we are going to cope… But to my surprise, we worked well together.”
I have worked in this hospital for the last 30 years. We have an average of a thousand deliveries per month. Here come engineers who are almost my children’s ages. Initially I thought, I’m not sure that we are going to cope. But to my surprise, we worked well together — I would refer to them as my sons, and they would refer me as their mum. I came to realize they were very knowledgeable, and we moved together. It was fantastic.
I believe that it is very, very important for the designers to interact with us and for us to show them the equipment we use. We know how to use the equipment, we know what can hurt a patient and we know what is good for a patient because we use it almost on a daily basis. I’m not bragging, but I believe a part of the success of this project was because of us, the clinicians.
When I saw the suction machine today, I felt that my mothers are safe. It will make a great impact in the labor ward. I only wish it was brought in tomorrow, or today, to be very sincere.
Project manager, Maker for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health
“Even with a simple examination light, we learned that the light needs to be white and cool so that colors are not distorted.”
It was really eye opening. The one thing I really got is that for a long time, engineers haven’t really cared about the user. Engineers are just making the things they want to make, without really thinking about what the users want. So you design something and a market survey will be done. But no one really goes to the user and asks, what exactly do you want in this piece of equipment?
Even with a simple examination light, we learned that the light needs to be white and cool so that colors are not distorted. So if a doctor is looking at a patient, they can tell the color of the skin. Colors are really important. Ideally, the light should not create a shadow, so they can still see what they are working on. The other thing we learned was that heat emissions from those lamps should be at a minimum, the smallest heat signature that you can get.
We want to make medical devices that our nurses are happy about. Also, to try and entice the government to buy this equipment, we also made them as cheap as possible. So it’s a two-pronged approach to the whole situation. We have made them about half the price of what they are currently using. We expect if we go into mass production, it would go down to about a quarter.
Engineering student, University of Nairobi
“When we went to the labor ward, you could hear the screams of women giving birth… that made me empathize more.”
I’m an electrical engineering student about to start my fifth year. When we went to the labor ward, you could hear the screams of women giving birth and then you saw the women, and blood at some points. You can see all of these people who need things and the equipment just isn’t there: delivery beds are not there, incubators, everything is not enough. That made me empathize more and wish to be more involved in the project. This is a way to make things better for me and my sister and my mother if she ever wants to have more children.
Dr. Edwin Mbugua Maina
Senior Program Manager, Concern Worldwide Kenya
“You look at the casing of the suction machine, it is steel that has been sourced, designed, and fabricated locally.”
When you interact with the engineering students, you realize they are very entrepreneurial, and that they can use what is available to build the medical devices. For example, the suction machine has been built mainly from materials that are found in the country. You look at the casing of the suction machine, it is steel that has been sourced, designed, and fabricated locally. The cast iron wheels are available locally. Some of the circuit boards have actually been printed out of the lab. They have come up with very simple ways of building the electricity boards.
The students and the clinicians would engage with each other and that really enriched the design process. Engineers definitely would not know about postpartum hemorrhage. They would not know that mothers die from high blood pressure during pregnancy and delivery and some of them have come to appreciate that. You can see it in the passion they put into the project, the kind of hours they put into the project. That is something that is driving them.
Musician & Ambassador for Maker Movement for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health
“We have brains, we have creativity, we have people. We have all the solutions here.”
It’s absolutely important that Kenya is solving its own problems, because first of all, we can. We need to move away from this poverty mentality that people come and help us. We have brains, we have creativity, we have people. We have all the solutions here, we just need to be able to jump out and use them and solve our problems. I think this a very important process to Kenya, for Kenya, by Kenyans.