This Mozambican woman makes prostheses from waste

How do entrepreneurs find their ideas? It depends. In Marta Vania Uetela’s case, the spark was sparked by a friend’s car accident. A leg amputated, he needed a prosthesis to be able to walk again. And the price had to be affordable.

The artificial legs that might have worked for him were too expensive, or you had to wait too long to get one.

Armed with her engineering degree and her training in management and entrepreneurship acquired within the framework of the Initiative for Young African Leaders (YALI), the young Mozambican decided to make some herself to help his friend. She would call her company “BioMec”.

Marta needed to be able to source supplies, including plastics, without spending too much in order to create an inexpensive end product. No need to look far: all she had to do was recover the materials that washed up on the coast of Mozambique!

A machine making a prosthetic leg (Courtesy of BioMec)
The prostheses, made by BioMec using 3D printers, are intended for amputees in Mozambique and Angola. (Courtesy of BioMec)

Mozambique has over 2,400 kilometers of coastline, which is an important livelihood for fishermen. Unfortunately, the litter and debris that accumulates on the coastline, especially plastic waste and abandoned fishing nets, puts the fishing villages at risk.

During the pandemic, environmental groups have organized clean-up campaigns along the coastline. Hundreds of volunteers picked up the plastic waste, not really knowing what they would do with it.

Why not recycle plastic waste and discarded nets to make prostheses, Marta wondered.

As she had learned to do during her training with YALI, she identified and recruited partners, including the quasi-governmental company ProAzul which recycles materials discarded by the sea.

A woman holding a prosthetic leg and two empty plastic bottles (Courtesy of BioMec)
Marta shows a prosthesis she made and the type of material she used. (Courtesy of BioMec)

“At university, we were taught to build things, but not to go from the dream to the stage of creating a business,” notes Marta. The YALI program was a great opportunity to network with other people, and — spoiler warning! — I’m working with some of them right now. »

In 2020, Marta designed a prototype and then spent six months seeking research funding.

It also partnered with the UK and Irish embassies, both of which provided technical support to the production chain of its operations. Its prostheses are mainly made of recycled materials, except for the sleeve that connects the stump and the prosthesis and which is made of silicone.

Marta’s first prototype went to her friend Ivan. By using recycled materials and 3D printers, the entrepreneur has reduced the cost of prosthetic structures by hundreds of dollars to an average of $45.

The company also adopts an original approach to designing its products: it invites the customer to collaborate on the final appearance of the artificial limb.

A man seated, looking at a tablet computer, and another man with a leg amputee seated in front of him (Courtesy of BioMec)
The prostheses are made from recycled materials. Silicone sleeves fit over the stump to ensure comfort and mobility. (Courtesy of BioMec)

“This is one of the challenges we encounter, because our clients are mostly very young,” explains Marta. It was never about just creating prostheses, but also collaborating with them and making them feel good, having a better self-image and sparking creativity. »

Today, Marta leads a pilot program with over 700 clients in Mozambique and Angola, in which she works with Telmo Bumba, another former YALI participant, now a BioMec partner.

Marta is grateful for the leadership skills she learned through YALI and hopes to expand her business into creating prosthetic arms in the near future.

A version of this article appeared on Medium*.

*in English

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