If you’ve ever doubted that the world is unbalanced, just take a look at the disparity in medical resources between developed and developing countries. In the United States, for example, medical technology has advanced to the point that a person’s entire face can be rebuilt, and very few diseases are the automatic death sentences that they used to be. Meanwhile, in developing countries, people are still dying of polio, a disease that was eradicated in the United States decades ago. Unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it. How can so many resources be available, and yet so limited to only a small portion of the planet?
That’s a question for another day, but there is a lot that can be done to shift the balance of medical resources across the world. 3D LifePrints, a London-based company that supplies hospitals with 3D printed surgical models, has a humanitarian division that is actively working to provide prosthetics to amputees in developing countries. The loss of a limb is devastating for anyone, but for the estimated 15 million amputees in the developing world without access to prosthetics or sufficient medical care, that loss can mean the end of a livelihood or even a life.
Take the case of Peter, for example, a Kenyan man who lost his leg after being attacked by a hippo. Unable to walk or work, he said he felt like a “waste” and a burden on his family. Individuals like Peter are exactly the kind of people that 3D LifePrints wants to help by providing affordable, durable and quality 3D printed prosthetics. The organization, which describes itself as a collective of medical experts, social entrepreneurs, technologists, and academic researchers, has locations in Kenya, Myanmar, the United States and the United Kingdom. For the past two years, 3D LifePrints has been researching and creating 3D printed prosthetics for amputees in developing countries.
While prosthetic devices are not unheard of in these areas, there are several major problems with the existing system that provides them. Right now the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the main supplier of prosthetic devices to developing countries, but the devices being provided are expensive, limited in function, and require a lot of maintenance. Now that 3D printing has made prosthetics so much cheaper, more comfortable, and more functional than they used to be, 3D LifePrints aims to do away with those issues.
Simply giving medical devices to people who need them is only part of the organization’s purpose, however. Other goals include the implementation of 3D manufacturing hubs and training programs so that locals can ultimately manufacture and fit the devices themselves, therefore improving not only medical treatment but economic infrastructure.
Such programs are not cheap, though, which is why 3D LifePrints has created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo’s Generosity platform to raise the funds necessary to continue with its work. The campaign’s goal is to raise $35,000, and it’s already off to a pretty good start, with nearly $1,000 pledged in its first day. Further goals include partnerships with Refugee Open Ware and LIMBS International, as well as expanding their outreach to some of the world’s poorest countries such as Malawi and South Sudan.
As for Peter from Kenya, he now has a prosthetic leg as comfortable and functional as the one he lost. No longer seeing himself as a burden to his family, Peter now describes himself as “contented.”
Discuss this story in the 3D LifePrints forum thread on 3DPB.com.