The burden of disability is felt strongest in developing countries, where access to services and rehabilitative devices is limited, particularly in rural areas. In regions where manual labor is the basis for economic productivity, amputations can have debilitating effects at the individual and family levels. While some in developing countries may gain access to a prosthetic device donated from a developed country, these are not well suited for the terrain and everyday lives of a user in developing countries. Therefore, can a device be designed specifically for this context and the particular needs of the developing world user? What are the challenges and opportunities? Is 3D printing the answer?
The 3DP venture seeks to address these questions through four targeted areas: (1) An analysis of the upper-limb prosthetic devices currently designed for the developing world context. (2) An exploration of manufacturing methods to determine the ideal method for a prosthetic hand, such as e-NABLE’s Raptor Reloaded. (3) An assessment of the range of tasks that can be successfully accomplished using the Raptor Reloaded. Would these address the likely needs of developing world users? (4) An overview of the community of organizations, clinics, and hospitals working in Zambia to provide prosthetic services. If a prosthetic device is available, how does an organization actually get it to the end user?
While 3D printing is a promising manufacturing method that enables customization, printing times are significant, creating a problem for amputees that must travel long distances. Incorporating injection molding may increase speed while maintaining some of the benefits of 3D printing. Although the current design of the Raptor Reloaded has limited functionality, key design alterations may increase its applicability. Finally, significant challenges preventing widespread access to services lie not with the device, but with the system–the lack of trained prosthetists and difficulties accessing rural amputees. As such, what are the opportunities available to overcome these key bottlenecks in the distribution chain?