A recent collaboration between Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions’ physical therapy students and a group of OHIO engineering students is helping children in Botswana, Africa, stand up for their health — literally.
Janice Howman, director of clinical education within CHSP’s Division of Physical Therapy, challenged the students with the task of building a pediatric standing frame, or stander, for children in Botswana who are unable to stand on their own. The assistive device — which supports a child’s legs and trunk — had to be made of materials readily available to the people of Botswana and had to be cost effective. The goal was to create a stander that could be replicated for around $150. A high-tech stander in the United States can cost between $5,000-$10,000.
After months of collaborative work, the project was successful and a handful of students were able to see the fruits of their labor in a real-world setting as children in Botswana utilized the new stander.
In previous trips to Botswana, Ohio University personnel came into contact with children who were unable to stand due to conditions such as cerebral palsy. A stander, according to Howman, is used for prevention of secondary impairments and long term complications. She said children who use a stander have better bone density and are not as susceptible to bone fractures down the road because they are getting weight-bearing force from standing for extended periods of time. Studies have shown that a stander can assist with muscle tone and flexibility and bowel function.
According to Howman, senior level mechanical engineering students worked with physical therapy students in fall and spring of last year to create a stander that would suit the needs of children aged 3-7 which could move and change angles to allow for more weight bearing as needed.
“The students did an amazing job,” said Howman. “I cannot commend the engineering students and our PT students enough for their collaboration … there was that moment where we knew it was going to work and there were tears. It was amazing.”
Howman added the emotions for those involved in the project intensified when the first child was placed into the stander in Botswana.
For the students, the accomplishment was real and lasting. Physical therapy students learned to think about approaching healthcare in different ways, specifically by engaging engineering methods to create ways to improve their own practices. Engineering students were able to see real-world application of their design and the effect it had directly on the children.
Teo Juratovac, a member of the engineering team, said the project was “very fulfilling” and that the project was chosen by the team because of the ability to impact people’s lives in a positive way. He said the engineering students were happy to work with physical therapy students and faculty to be able to deliver an affordable medical device to the people of Botswana.
“It was good to hear that our hard work paid off,” Juratovac said. “The benefit for the children makes all the work worth it in my opinion.”
With the specifications for the design provided, the people of Botswana now have the ability to build and replicate more standers. Howman said several parents cried over the opportunity and offered hugs of thanks.
Next, the collaboration hopes to identify a family in need and have mechanical engineering students work with the family on location to build a stander while also connecting with engineers in Botswana to continue the process. Another goal will be to connect with, and have the standers implemented in, school systems in Botswana.
Those interested in donating to the Botswana Rehab Foundation may visit https://www.ohio.edu/give. Click “give now” and “one time gift” before marking the box for “the fund I want to support isn’t listed above.” Enter the amount of the gift and list the fund name of “Rehabilitation and Communication Sciences (RCS) Botswana.”