3D printing limbs in East Africa
I have said this countless times giving it only passing thought. This saying is often passed off under your breath, or when describing a shopping experience gone wrong, usually when you buy something that was too expensive. However what would be too expensive for you to have to give up an actual arm or a leg? What would you be willing to give to get that limb in some way replaced?
The leading causes of limb loss are severe injuries as caused in accidents and wars, cancerous tumors, birth defects, serious infection, and complications from diabetes. People give their physical arms and legs for these reasons so they can continue to carry on with their lives. In developed countries, such as the United States, there is access to prosthetic limbs. These often expensive medical devices allow the amputee to have some sense of normalcy and to continue with a functional life.
What do you think happens in developing countries? Places where war and other tragedies abound? The people who lose their limbs often are left without access to employment, and thus suffer throughout the remainder of their lives. There is a key role than 3D printing and new software development can play in serving those who have faced such a price for the chance to live.
With the help of a team of PhD students at Clemson University, we are also tackling the tough issue of precise measurements and scaling of the 3D models to the specific patient digitally using an iPhone. This component is especially important when dealing with children who grow and who will need new devices and fittings at various times. Wearing a prosthesis that does not fit well can be painful and uncomfortable, and cause additional damage to the amputation site. It is essential to ensure that the poor are not offered a lower quality product simply due to their economic disempowerment. Quite to the contrary, it is our purpose to design the best technology has to offer so that it can serve those who need it most.
Thanks to our partnership with the Handicapped General Partnership in Tanzania, and the Kigamboni Dar es Salaam local government, we have a listed of affected people who are waiting for our help. The government including the Commission of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health are supportive and have offered technical assistance. Due to recent budget cuts in the health sector, neither are able to commit financial resources at this time. Necessity is the mother of all innovation, and it pushes us to achieve even in limiting circumstances.
We can foresee in the near future limbs replacement being available throughout the developing world with access to 3D printers, design files, and scanning technology. Using technology, we make it affordable and possible for everyone to live normally without their natural limbs. That will be priceless.