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3D printing helps physical re-education in Africa

Antoine Delers
07 June 2019
Handicap International turns to 3D technology in order to help victims of natural disasters and war. The Imp&Acte3D project implemented in Africa is producing some conclusive results.


More than 30 million people living in low-income countries require an orthopaedic aid. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), only 5 to 15% of them have access to such aids. The development of new technologies, such as 3D printing and telemedicine (remote medical practice via telecommunication), has opened up new approaches for health services. Among other things, they help to reach patients who are victims of natural disasters and war, or those who live in remote regions.

With the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation (€700,000), Handicap International has set up a telemedicine and 3D orthopaedic aid printing project called Imp&Acte3D. This study was carried out by Kris Cuppens and Tom Saey, researchers from the Mobilab centre of expertise at the Thomas More Institute in Brussels. By introducing 3D printing technology into physical re-education in West Africa, the research aims to increase the current productivity of orthopaedic specialists in the field so as to treat more children and adults with a disability. The researchers carried out this project from November 2017 to November 2018 in three African countries: Togo, Mali, and Niger.

The Imp&Acte3D project was also designed to compare the clinical effects of the orthoses produced by 3D printing with those made in a conventional manner. In statistical terms, the patients prefer the first, in particular for their quality and their design, although conventional orthoses are seen as being longer lasting. In terms of production, 3D printing of orthopaedic aids helps to save time and money compared with more traditional production methods.

A doctor adjusts an orthopaedic device to a man's leg
© Xaume Olleros/HI
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