The Department of Rehabilitative Sciences at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has commenced the implementation of the 3-wheels wheelchair project in an effort to test the suitability of the wheelchair ahead of large-scale production.
The project by JKUAT and Motivation Charitable Trust, is set to produce the first locally manufactured wheelchairs customized for users and fit for the rural and peri-urban terrain, a factor that necessitated the project.
The first phase of the trial, which commenced on Monday March 13, 2023, featured a sample of five volunteers who will test the 3-wheel wheelchair, and give feedback on its performance, which will then inform further modifications.
The trial which was conducted at the department’s lab at the College of Health Sciences (COHES) kicked off with a comprehensive baseline physical assessment led by the project’s researchers; Dr. Mwangi Matheri, Dr. Wallace Karuguti and Dr. Daniel Kariuki (all from Rehabilitative Sciences) and Mr. Charles Kanyi from Motivation Trust.
The baseline assessment sought to establish the status of the targeted user, and the current wheelchair, using World Health Organization guidelines and fitting on a prototype before issuing the new one.
The meeting also provided a practical opportunity for JKUAT students undertaking Bachelor’s Degree in Physiotherapy to interact with the trial-wheelchair participants living with spinal injury disability, which highlighted some of the challenges experienced in the past when there was inadequate information on how to deal with such conditions.
“I suddenly became disabled while in secondary school and the doctors did not prepare me for the life ahead. It was difficult to navigate because I was not counseled. I got the wrong wheelchair, and the physiotherapist did not provide proper treatment. I am grateful that this project has qualified persons who are conversant with the practice of physiotherapy,” said one of the participants.
The trial was preceded by two significant meetings that are crucial to the project: one on safeguarding, and the second one to orient participants with the prototype.
During the safeguarding meeting held at JKUAT on Monday, March 6, 2023, project researchers were sensitized on the issue which ensures that both donors and beneficiaries are protected from any harm in such projects.
The orientation held at Kikuyu PCEA Hospital Rehabilitation Centre on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, enabled the participants all living with disability due to spinal injury, to visually assess the prototype and make recommendations, a strategy aimed at encouraging the adoption of the project by the users.
According to the project’s Principal Investigator, Dr. Matheri, the model will solve the needs of the region and therefore avoid wastage as witnessed by the various “wheelchair graveyards” because it is backed by scientific research methods.
“As scientists, we intend to use data science techniques to analyze user feedback thematically on how functional is the prototype wheelchair and accurately inform the adjustments,” said Dr. Matheri.
He further explained, “It will ensure the production is cost-effective, and whose ripple effect will impact investments towards the manufacturing industry, leading to job creation, retaining much of our foreign exchange, and reducing waiting time because the shipment process is lengthy.”
Dr. Matheri also emphasized the need to understand the project objective, noting that the 3-wheel wheelchair is not for any person with a disability. It is for persons with good stability on the armrest and it is mainly for the rural environment where there is limited movement.
Some features such as the non-retractable beam, which make it stable in rough terrain cannot be altered at this point for those who would want to use it in busy urban centers or public transport.
According to Mr. Charles Kanyi, Technical Project Coordinator at Motivation, the 3-wheel has been proven to have the best performance and will be initially available in three sizes: 350, 400 and 450. Other sizes will be included in the next trial phase.
“There are five wheelchairs for the first phase, after four weeks we will have 15. The other 100 will come after improvement based on the feedback from the trial. We intend to build something that is aesthetic, acceptable and available in a wide range, said Mr. Kanyi.
The 3-wheel wheelchair is foldable, easy to adjust different parts without a wrench or spanner, and has laser cut arm-rests with no sharp edges, a plastic rest on top of the laser cut arm rest to prevent mud accumulation, an attachment for removing mud accumulation, 3 mm powder coated to prevent rust and is less flammable than regular paint.
This project will ensure beneficiaries do not develop additional deformities or other issues such as pressure sores that may lead to anaemia and low self-esteem. As an outcome, people’s lives will be improved.