3-D Printing Brings Prosthetics to Ugandan Children

Printed sockets for those with lower limb amputations will cut down on the need for in-demand highly skilled technicians and create a better product.
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Printed sockets for those with lower limb amputations will cut down on the need for in-demand highly skilled technicians and create a better product.

As many as 0.5 percent of the population in developing countries need prostheses or orthotics, according to the World Health Organization. The demand for artificial limbs in Uganda is particularly high due to poor access to health care and vaccines, civil violence and congenital disease. Unfortunately, these needs are often unmet.

The current method to create prosthetic limbs is labor intensive. Not only does the process require a highly skilled professional to cast a mold for each individual, but it take several days to complete and often results in ill-fitting pieces. The country has few trained prosthetists to make these molds, forcing many children to live without artificial limbs. Lack of prosthetics greatly impacts a child’s personal mobility, not to mention their quality of life.

But 3D PrintAbility can change all that. Aside from printing out cars and guns, consumer grade 3-D printers can print out customized sockets to support prosthetics.

“If we can capture a 3-D model of a child’s residual limb – whatever they have left after an amputation – turn that model into a 3-D model and convert that into a printable socket that can serve to support a prosthetic limb,” Matt Ratto told Global News. He’s part of the research team from the University of Toronto designing the sockets with help from NGO, Christian Blind Mission Canada.

After a year and half of hard work, the team is taking the technology and equipment to the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services Uganda to begin creating prosthetics for patients.

The printing process takes roughly seven to 10 hours and results in a better fitting item, all without needing professional prosthetist.

But don’t worry about those highly skilled technicians being put out of business. Sustainability is a high priority for Ratto and his team, and they intend to teach current and new workers the simplified technique. Eventually, all of the printing will take place in Uganda, providing kids with medical care and simultaneously further the community’s economy.  

Not Impossible Now thanks Mallika Makkar for giving us permission to use her photo above. Visit her Facebook page and Flickr page to view more of her work.