Stories of lives devastated by conflict or disease are all too common in developing countries. Lack of an arm or leg can be tough anywhere, but for people in poorer parts of the world it is especially challenging. Some are victims of conflict, while others may have been born with congenital conditions. Many more are injured on roads, with the casualty toll soaring in poorer nations. In Kenya, half the patients on surgical wards have road injuries. The World Health Organisation estimates there are about 30 million people who require prosthetic limbs, braces or other mobility devices, yet less than 20% have them.
Prosthetics can involve a lot of work and expertise to produce and fit and the WHO says there is currently a shortage of 40,000 trained prosthetists in poorer countries. There is also the time and financial cost to patients, who may have to travel long distances for treatment that can take five days – to assess their need, produce a prosthesis and fit it to the residual limb. The result is that braces and artificial limbs are among the most desperately needed medical devices. However, technology may be hurtling to the rescue – in the shape of 3D printing.