Globally, the needs of people with amputations are greater than one might assume. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands estimates that there are close to 60 million people living with limb amputations due to traumatic causes around the world. The majority of these people are in East Asia and South Asia, followed by North Africa and other underserved regions. An estimated 75,850 prosthetists are needed to treat these people. The World Health Organization estimates that between 35 and 40 million people around the world need prosthetics and orthotics assistance.
A Belgium-based social startup is addressing this global issue; Ugani Prosthetics is dedicated to bringing affordable custom-made prosthetic limbs to people living in developing countries who otherwise don’t have access to this much-needed care. While not a charity, the company works to offer affordable prices through a combination of supply chain optimization, local manufacturing, working with local educational and local institutions, and a new approach to making prosthetic fittings.
Cutting-edge 3D scanning and 3D printing are key to lowering the price and shortening the delivery time of prosthetics. How? Ugani created proprietary uFit software that’s used to turn a 3D scan of a stump into a 3D-printed prosthetic. With some basic training, a technician on the ground in a developing country can make a scan of the patient’s limb using an iPad and send that data to a manufacturing site where the 3D socket is printed. That custom socket can be fitted onto many commercially available shin tubes and prosthetic feet and the complete prosthetic is shipped to the patient.
But Ugani’s prosthetic-making technology can also go to the patient, just about anywhere in the world, in a unique way: a shipping container. It’s the same kind of cargo container you’ve undoubtedly seen loaded on ships and trucks — 20-feet-long, made of corrugated steel, and unremarkable on the outside. But open the doors to this container and you’ll find an off-grid standalone prosthetics factory and patient examination room. Solar panels provide the power for a bank of 3D printers that are capable of turning out around 1,500 prosthetic sockets a year.
Ugani Prosthetics co-founded Joren Vallaeys estimates the cost for each prosthetic at $300. This is compared to traditional prosthetic limbs that can cost thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. That drastic cost reduction gives credence to Ugani’s stated goal to “give every amputee the right to a decent life.”