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3D Printing and The Impact on Rehabilitation Process in Transitioning and Transforming Countries

In emerging countries where many people make less than $1 per day, patients struggle to get access to affordable healthcare services. Daily, nine people are injured in war or accidents, becoming disabled. Millions live with limb loss and these people have difficulty in accessing appropriate health services as the healthcare professionals struggle to find cost-effective rehabilitation solutions.

Prosthetic devices are critical for patients suffering from limb-loss and offer emotional benefits, confidence, and physical capability. Rehabilitation services are worth the long-term investment, offering hope, skills, and better quality of life. 

However, conventional prosthetic devices are beyond the reach of many patients coming from low-income resource setting. Up until now, they had no hope, but today the alternative route to use other newer technologies like 3D printing are helping these patients. 3D printing will not replace the conventional manufacturing prosthetic manufacturing sector but complement the well-established service sector. In the medical field, 3D printing technologies enable physicians to work better by improving the patient outcomes in low resource communities.

As lack of mobility can be a big hurdle in developing countries, and often children and adults are frustrated with the fact that they can’t do anything due to an injury, amputation, or limb loss. 3D technology can offer hope by helping us to connect with people in developing countries so that they can get mobility devices that are affordable and simple to use. Technology is something that is always trending, and, because of that thing like 3D printing technology helps to move forward and help others who have needs, like prosthetic devices and other medical devices and these could make the quality of life for these patients even better.

Dr James Ma said: “The idea is to imagine someone when they are in a healthy state so that the data is
available if it’s needed at a later point… We have soldiers who get injured. They lose limbs and other tissues and it’s a challenge to reconstruct them in the field. But if they are imaged beforehand, you can send that over the internet and have a 3D printer in the field to produce the bone.”

The rapid advancement of additive manufacturing technology and its materials offers cost-effective products with greater customizations and thereby less intensive use of medical resources. As healthcare industry takes a larger part of the gross domestic product of many countries, the question of cost will always be a factor associated with the obvious need to constantly increase the innovative products and improve the efficiency of the medical related supply chain. However, there remain hurdles that must be overcome before 3D printing reaches a critical threshold in the mainstream healthcare industry.

Public health and clinical care cannot be delivered safely, with high quality and in a cost-effective manner, without seamless, sustainable, and secure data and information exchange at all levels of the health system. Too often data are captured in a way that cannot be shared as
needed because of interoperability issues or a lack of standards regarding the exchange of health information. Sometimes data are captured multiple times in multiple ways, leading to duplication, inaccuracies, and delays or they are not captured at all.

With more than 600 million people in the world who experiences disabilities of varying degrees. The global population of disabled people is increasing due to war, landmines, violence, road traffic accidents, other domestic and occupational injuries. These trends continue to create an increased demand for health and rehabilitation services.

Despite the rapid progress in technology, more than 40 percent of the world’s population has access to the internet, with new users coming online every day. Among the poorest 20 percent of households, nearly 7 out of 10 have a mobile phone. The poorest households are more likely to have access to mobile phones than to toilets or clean water.

Taking advantages of this rapid technological changes helps the world to be more prosperous and inclusive. The world’s 1 billion persons live with disabilities—80 percent of whom live in developing countries—and these can lead more productive lives with the help of text, voice, and video communication and by using 3D printing technologies for rehabilitation services.

The economic and social costs of disability are significant and difficult to quantify. They include several direct and indirect costs, some are borne by the patients, and some by family and the rest of society. Many of the costs could be reduced by incorporating appropriate technologies.  

Improving the rehabilitation services, by identification of patient’s problems and needs and relating the problems to relevant factors of the person and their environment. Developing well-defined rehabilitation plans, goal, and implementing the measures and effects play a key role in the continuum of the rehabilitation process.

Using appropriate assistive technologies, have shown to be powerful to increase the independence and improve participation. They also help in reducing the care costs. The assistive devices should be able

  1. Suit the user:  For e.g.: Many wheelchairs donated to low- middle-income countries, by international services in the past were rejected because they are not appropriate for the end user in their environment.
  2. Suit the appropriate device for the user: Poor selection or lack of training to use the device, in the past has resulted in abandonment due to the mismatch between the device and end user.
  3. Include appropriate follow-up measures: Local maintenance and counselling for appropriate use of the device are critical for the successes of the assistive device rehabilitation services.

The use of telerehabilitation and video and teleconferencing facilities remotely can help the users to receive expert treatment from specialists located elsewhere.

The main goal in lower income countries should be a gradual expansion of the rehabilitation services, with focus on cost-effective approaches, while in higher income countries the focus should be on relevance, quality and affordability of the services.

The revolutionary aspect of 3D printing lies in its digital nature: physical objects become digital information that can be remixed, reformulated, improved, and shared.




Krassenstein E. Military May Soon Be Able to Copy and 3D Print Exact Replicas of Bones and Limbs for Injured Soldiers. 3D (2015). copy-and-3d-print-bones/?utm_source=Daily+3D+Prin ting+News&utm_campaign=fbd7b68c1e-Latest_3D_ Printing_News_02_17_2015_2_16_2015&utm_
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World Bank. 2016. World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Washington,

DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0671-1. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO

World report on disability by WHO. 2011

3D Printed Personalized Prosthesis For Limbs

The Applications of 3D printing are emerging almost every day, and this technology continues to grow and penetrate more widely and deeply across industrial sectors, as of today, we are only just beginning to see the true potential of 3D printing. The rapid rise of 3D printing has presented the healthcare industry with a massive opportunity. 3D printing could considerably enhance personalization within the healthcare industry. Patients in the past, feel that they are on a manufacturing conveyor belt, failing to receive optimum attention to their needs. With 3D printing, they could receive highly customized medical products, with far more accurate treatment. While 3D printing may not offer the fix all solution, yet it makes medical care more affordable, accessible and attainable.

Healthcare centres can test the 3D printed medical device in early prototype stages and get feedback instantly and improve the design iterations before the final production of the product. Subsequently, time to market of new medical devices is shortening significantly, meaning more patients can get benefit from these innovations. As healthcare requires fast-paced actions to enable rapid decision making in patient care, 3D printing can offer disruptive technologies in a cost-efficient manner.

An estimated 80% of the world’s disabled people live in developing countries. Persons with physical disabilities, who have a need for prosthetics/orthotics and related rehabilitation services in developing countries, represent 0.5% of the total population. Most them are poor and find difficulty in accessing appropriate health and rehabilitation services. This leads to their exclusion from society. With appropriate rehabilitation services, most people with disabilities can become critical contributors to the society and allocating resources to their rehabilitation is a long-term investment.

Low-cost 3D printers are being used in war-torn developing countries, such as the Sudan and Uganda, to make prosthetics for amputees, of which there are 50,000 in Sudan alone.

As the numerous applications of 3D printed materials in healthcare industry increase, the area of prosthetics is something that has been impacted by the rapid advancement of 3D printing. The prosthesis has been around for a long time but until recently very basic design and functionality.  In addition, the cost of the prosthetics is prohibitive and out of reach of many in resource-poor communities across the world. Now with the improvements in 3D printing, this has heralded a new wave of inexpensive yet state of the art prosthesis. This has increased the availability and patients can have customized options which are less expensive than the conventionally manufactured prosthesis. Thanks to the rapid turnaround time, it can be possible to produce personalized prosthetic prototypes. The researchers at U.S Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a 3D printer to produce a prosthetic hand with miniature hydraulics that moves the fingers-The hydraulics rely on the network of integrated ducts in the prosthesis- with no drilling holes necessary.

The medical industry presents with a broad range of opportunities for innovative products, cost saving, and applications in resource-poor communities using 3D printing. The technology is currently well developed and continues to advance, with rapidly falling costs and prices, however for 3D printing to get on mainstream adoption in the healthcare industry- there are still significant hurdles. In the medical industry, the applications are far reaching whether it is printing of organs or prosthetic arm. 


Heater B. Inexpensive 3D Limbs Could Bring New Hope to Sudan’s 50,000 Amputees. Yahoo! Tech. (2014). com/tech/inexpensive-3d-limbs-could-bring-new-hope-tosudans-75055744752.html

Image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review