Cheap 3D printed pros­thet­ics could be game changer for Nepal

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

KATH­MANDU: Ram’s new hand was man­u­fac­tured on a 3D printer in Nepal’s cap­i­tal for just $30, an in­no­va­tion that could be a game changer for many in the im­pov­er­ished Hi­malayan coun­try. Once a farmer, Ram lost his hands and toes within a few years of con­tract­ing lep­rosy, forc­ing the fa­ther-of-three to turn to beg­ging in a des­per­ate bid to feed his fam­ily. That’s where he was spot­ted by US-born Matthew Rock­well, the founder of Dis­as­ter Hack, a non-profit tech­nol­ogy startup that is mak­ing func­tional pros­thetic hands for those who couldn’t oth­er­wise af­ford them.

Dis­as­ter Hack makes its money do­ing tech con­sult­ing and teach­ing peo­ple to code, while run­ning al­tru­is­tic ven­tures on the side like teach­ing Nepalis IT skills and man­u­fac­tur­ing low-cost, ba­sic pros­thet­ics. Rock­well-who flits be­tween Nepal and the US, where he is part of the tech team be­hind the an­nual Burn­ing Man fes­ti­val in Ne­vada’s Black Rock Desert-brought a 3D printer to Kath­mandu af­ter a pow­er­ful earth­quake struck the coun­try in 2015.

Soon, he be­gan print­ing new hands for those in need: a girl who lost both limbs af­ter be­ing elec­tro­cuted by hang­ing power lines, a con­struc­tion worker whose hand was crushed be­yond re­pair. “We’ve only dis­trib­uted to five so far but we have a list that keeps on grow­ing,” said Rock­well, sit­ting in a cramped of­fice in Kath­mandu, the 3D printer whirling be­hind him.

Re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als

Rock­well only has the ca­pac­ity to make hands at the mo­ment-a leg re­quires a more heavy-duty printer-but he has iden­ti­fied more than 7,000 peo­ple in Nepal who could ben­e­fit from Dis­as­ter Hack’s cre­ations. “A tra­di­tional pros­the­sis costs any­where be­tween $1000 to $3000 to $5000,” Rock­well ex­plained. “Now we’re able to pro­duce pros­the­ses for right around $30 so it (3D print­ing) low­ers the cost dra­mat­i­cally for a func­tional pros­the­sis.”

Rock­well hopes to bring down the cost even fur­ther by re­cy­cling plas­tic bot­tle tops to make the wire that feeds the printer. Nepal’s health­care sec­tor is chron­i­cally un­der­funded and ille­quipped but 3D print­ing can re­duce both the cost and time it takes to bring med­i­cal equip­ment to those who need it most. The 3D printed hands be­ing man­u­fac­tured by Dis­as­ter Hack take nearly a full day to print, and are com­prised of roughly 20 dif­fer­ent parts. Rock­well hopes the mostly vol­un­teer-run project will sow the seeds for some­thing big­ger.

He has now trained 20 pros­thetists at hos­pi­tals in Nepal in 3D print­ing, and signed a deal with Kath­mandu’s largest univer­sity to set up the coun­try’s first biomed­i­cal 3D print­ing lab. Mean­while for Ram, a new hand could mean a chance to give up beg­ging. “What should I say, I have noth­ing to eat. If I stay here I make 100 ru­pees ($0.97), 50 ru­pees,” he said from his daily spot on the cor­ner of a busy in­ter­sec­tion. He lifted the new pros­thetic hand, and as he slowly con­tracted the plas­tic fin­gers to make a fist, a smile spread across his face.—AFP

KATH­MANDU: This photo shows Dis­as­ter Hack founder Matthew Rock­well, right, at­tach­ing a 3D printed pros­thetic hand to lep­rosy suf­ferer Ram’s arm in Kath­mandu. —AFP pho­tos

KATH­MANDU: This photo shows Dis­as­ter Hack founder Matthew Rock­well dur­ing an in­ter­view with AFP in Kath­mandu.

KATH­MANDU: This photo shows lep­rosy suf­ferer Ram, who lost his hands and toes to the dis­ease, beg­ging on the streets of Kath­mandu.

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