Use of technology aided separation of conjoined twins in Kenya

For the first time in Kenya, doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital managed to separate conjoined twins. This was one of the first such operations successfully done at a hospital in sub-Saharan Africa (see another one here), and it was possible via use of technology in healthcare:  3D printing.

Dr Fred Kambuni, the lead surgeon, said that a 3D printed model helped his team of medics conduct the delicate spinal surgical interventions without experiencing any complications. The model was developed from the patients’ CT scan data, giving the doctors a valuable understanding of the problem.

With the model providing graphic and tangible input on the patients’ actual situation, doctors rehearsed the procedure in advance and completely eliminated the risk of unanticipated variables on the operating table.

Whilst Dr Kambuni and team were celebrating their 26-hour success, doctors in New York’s Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx were starting an even more complex operation to separate conjoined twins, this time joined at the head. Again, using 3D printing, they managed to separate the twins and to rebuild their skulls in a successful procedure lasting 27 hours.

The use of 3D printing as a disruptive technology and alternative to traditional manufacturing processes has grown rapidly over the past five years. The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that worldwide, spending on 3D printing is expected to surpass $35 billion in 2020, and has a year-on-year growth rate of  25 per cent.    The origins of 3D printing were in industrial prototyping, allowing many inventors to create many versions of a product faster and arrive at the desired product more efficiently. The applications for 3D printing are wide-ranging, and are most prevalent in the medical, aerospace, automotive, jewellery, art, architecture, fashion and food sectors.

We suggest you read  Scoping SMS text messaging to improve symptom management in palliative care patients in rural Uganda



3D printing in the medical sector has seen some of the largest growth. It is changing the landscape of how medical institutions provide patient care and helping to reduce operational costs.  3D LifePrints is a local company that realised the potential benefits of 3D printing. It was formed three years ago by a Nairobi-based team of social entrepreneurs, engineers and clinicians. Their initial focus was to develop a low-cost, durable and patient-specific prosthetics for amputees.

Their services have helped patients across Kenya and neighbouring countries who would otherwise have had no access or finances to obtain a prosthetic, impeding their ability to lead a more normal life again. They continue to evolve their designs and create sustainable operational frameworks utilising local medical institutions and resources.


Additionally, 3D LifePrints is looking to set up telemedicine ecosystems in the region, where patients who have difficulties accessing medical facilities can access medical knowledge repositories and have voice and video calls with doctors to assess their conditions.This will be in conjunction with mobile money operators and incumbent telecommunication providers.  It has the opportunity to be one of the first nations on the continent to truly harness the power of 3D printing and continue to be a leader in the use of  technology in healthcare. 


3D LifePrints is looking to replicate their UK-based model of providing 3D-printed medical models and medical devices in medical institutions across the country, providing cost-saving benefits to hospitals and improving patient care for every Kenyan who needs treatment. The benefits for hospitals using 3D models before surgery are many, including practical pre-operation simulation of complex cases, training of junior doctors without putting patients at risk and lowered costs for surgical planning. 

We suggest you read  Lumify: First App-Based Portable Ultrasound System in Africa

For the country to fully utilise this transformative technology, capacity building around it is essential, ranging from radiologists who will develop computer images of the patient to doctors utilising them. 

Either way, 3D printing must become a regular tool in our hospitals in order to minimise the mistakes that often creep up in complex operations. 3D printing has been proven to be effective in dealing with congenital heart diseases (CHD) that are more prevalent in Africa.   A recent study titled “Congenital heart disease and rheumatic heart disease in Africa: recent advances and current priorities” concluded that Africa continues to carry the heavy burden of Rheumatic Heart Diseases (RHD) in children and young adults while access to appropriate management of CHD, including simple defects, remains to be addressed.  

New data confirms a high prevalence of subclinical RHD in studies from Uganda, Senegal and Mozambique. These problems are opportunities that Kenya must seize to create an African hub for advanced technology in healthcare. 


It is a shame that after more than 50 years of independence, we continue to look to India for all manner of interventions in healthcare. There is a compelling reason to develop local capacity to handle African health problems through use of  technology in healthcare.  Kenyans continue to demonstrate the capacity to leverage technology and solve big problems but we need to support such initiatives, build massive capacity in our abundant youth and scale the solutions. New technologies like 3D printing present a great opportunity to build the much-needed confidence to take Africa to the next level.