Surgeons, nurses, and other medical staff at a hospital in Uganda are now able to take advantage of Arbutus Medical battery-powered tools as well as local technical support to treat thousands of orthopedic patients in need.
For several years, Arbutus Medical has worked with international aid organizations to bring DrillCover surgical tools to hospitals in low-resource countries to help them deliver safe surgery to their patients. Since COVID prevented travel, Arbutus Medical adapted and was able to train staff in a Ugandan hospital remotely in how to implement and operate these affordable surgical drills and saws, and work with a biomedical engineer in Kampala to ensure these professionals can successfully use the DrillCover tools to provide more safe orthopedic surgeries.
“Our first DrillCover tools were developed specifically to help staff at Mulago Hospital in Uganda, so it was a great honour to be able to help that same hospital in Kampala implement the use of our new line of orthopedic surgical products this year,” says Lawrence Buchan, founder and CEO of Arbutus Medical.
The Arbutus Medical production team and partners from MedAid were able to ship 22 boxes with DrillCover products to Mulago Hospital. Working with Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedic Program (USTOP), this work in Kampala was made possible by BCIP, a program launched as part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to support Canadian innovators and promote Canada’s economic growth. In 2019, BCIP became Innovative Solutions Canada’s (ISC) new Testing Stream.
“We have a lot of difficulties with electricity here, so having these battery-powered tools makes it much easier,” says Norman Mwaka. Arbutus Medical contracted Mwaka, a Ugandan field biomedical engineer, and sponsored him to complete MedAid’s Biomedical Technician training course. He now works with the nurses and surgeons in Kampala with providing technical advice and on-the-ground support.
But just sending the tools isn’t always enough. Surgeons and nurses at the hospital also require training and information about how best to use the product. In the past, Arbutus Medical teams had traveled with aid organizations to countries like Haiti and Tanzania, but with travel restricted, this time the team delivered the training online.
“Even though remote training was a challenge, we were able to give hospital staff the information they need,” says Buchan. “We surveyed 13 nurses and nine have already used the product more than 20 times each. One nurse told us, ‘These gadgets have made our surgeries easier and safer,’ and another said ‘The drill is a great help during surgery.’”
“They are easy to use, reliable, simple drills that improve the procedures for patients,” says Mwaka. “These tools improve the procedures, and in the long run, they are safer. Providing the training improves the nurses’ knowledge and skills. A large number of staff are acquiring new skills and experience than they would normally have, including on traction, drilling, sawing and more.”
Road traffic accidents are a major cause of injury in Uganda, and Mulago Hospital sees more than 6,000 injured patients each year. Hundreds of these patients eventually require orthopaedic surgery to prevent permanent disability. The socioeconomic impact of injury on these patients is dire. One study showed that even two years post-injury, almost 40 percent of patients with leg fractures don’t return to work, and their dependents don’t go back to school. Most also accumulate more than US$1,000 in new debt, about 50 percent of the average patient’s annual income. A simple orthopaedic surgery is so critical to avoid these bad outcomes.