As an upcoming Biomedical Engineer, I was nurtured to design new technologies with an emphasis of fit-for-purpose and context. My Bachelor’s degree curriculum was very heavy on Engineering design which spanned 3 of the 4 years of study, completing at least 8 design projects in total. My Master’s degree curriculum was no different. It focused on the re-design of motorcycle helmets, the tools that are used to manufacture them, and the standards to which they adhere, to make them more affordable, comfortable and suitable for the Tropics. While my Masters degree studies were immensely useful in molding me into a more exposed and thorough design engineer, I felt the need to hone the skill-set required to translate novel impactful engineering solutions to market. Over the years, I had won internationally competitive Biomedical engineering design awards and so had a couple of my colleagues, but unfortunately, none of our promising innovations made it to market. We weren’t even sure how to start and who to contact after failing to win seed capital from grants funders!
In May 2019, I got the God-sent opportunity to join the Fit-4-Purpose lab led by Professor Kenney Laurence. What was refreshing was that it was, and still is, a unanimous view that without exploring how the impactful prosthetic designs the lab is developing would ‘penetrate’ the market and reach those in need, the laborious engineering input would at best meet a delayed success. More likely, it would be to no avail. This was my mantra too – to consolidate what is already built and proven to be fit-4-Purpose and Context and make it available to those in need to realize the impact for which it was built, rather than letting science sit in research theses and publications unutilized.
Working with the Fit-4-Puorpose lab has been very challenging considering the fact that I maintain a job with Joint Medical Store, Uganda’s biggest private-not-for-profit distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment in Uganda. This was by design for the core graduate research objective to benefit synergistically from the affiliation to a local medical devices distributor with a reputation of a last-mile-delivery supply chain and unprecedented after sales services. Currently, we are tracking the process of introducing prosthetic devices in Uganda through Joint Medical Store. A prosthetic manufacturer from China has been brought on-board and already, we have experienced peculiar challenges that are pertinent to market acceptability of devices that up to now, had no reliable local supplier. The prosthetics industry in Uganda will undoubtedly benefit from a reliable local prosthetics supplier for ready and continued accessibility of spares and products after the prosthetics donor projects exit the country which is inevitable.
It is clear to us that it is not and will not be as easy as stocking good quality devices. We have learnt that the device prescribers (Orthopedic technicians) and the procurement officers in the different institutions need to be convinced by the quality since there is an overreaching brand loyalty to certain manufacturers from whom prosthetic donors have sourced in the past. More so, the local orthopedic professional bodies and the Ministry of Health need to be included in the market entry strategy since skipping them could be perceived as a disregard to protocol, thereby eliciting avoidable friction. We continue to track the ups and downs of this process ethnographically with the aim to shed a light onto translatable learnings that will inform donors of prosthetic devices in the future for sustainability. You, our beloved blog readers, will be kept in the loop.