3D printing brings limbs and braces to the world

3D printing brings limbs and braces to the world

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In many low-income and middle-income countries, only 5%-15% of people who require assistive devices, including artificial limbs or braces, have access to them. In areas that are remote or dangerous, specialized health professionals can be scarce and materials expensive. If poorly made or unadjusted, artificial limbs and braces can make life uncomfortable for patients by causing skin sores, pressure wounds, and muscle fatigue.

3D printing trial

As a solution, Humanity & Inclusion launched a 3D printing technology trial in Togo, Madagascar, and Syria. Teams there, working with people who have amputations, use a small, lightweight, 3D scanner to create a digital mold of the amputated limb. The mold can then be adapted according to the patients’ needs using computer-modelling software. Finally, it's sent to a 3D printer. The printer creates thousands of layers of thermoplastic to produce a bespoke socket that corresponds perfectly to the shape of the patient’s amputated limb.

In the first phase, we found 3D-printed sockets to be a safe and effective alternative to current socket designs. The process allows for a lot of input from the patient, and saves time for busy medical professionals. Importantly, the scanning materials required are portable and relatively simple to use. 

Expanded trials in West Africa

As a result, we expanded our trials with a new project in West Africa that’s designed to reach children and adults with disabilities living in isolated areas in Togo, Mali and Niger.

In four rehabilitation centers, ortho-prosthetic technicians and physical therapists trained in 3D printing tested tele-rehabilitation methods. Taking measurements, which involves the use of 3D scanners, and the fitting and rehabilitation sessions are done in each local orthopedic center, while the 3D-printed orthotic devices are printed in Togo.

Here's six-year-old Geraldo, who has a malformation and instability of his right ankle. Although he walked into the rehabilitation center, he will struggle to maintain his mobility as he grows if his ankle is unsupported. Through our 3D-printing project, our team created a personalized orthotic that will allow him to walk, run and play for years to come!