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Prosthetics in the Developing World

Upper-extremity amputees are estimated to number 650,000 worldwide, representing about ten per cent of amputees. While one third of upper-extremity patients in the United States use advanced prostheses, the vast majority of these patients worldwide lack access to both devices of this type and to the health care infrastructure required to support them. If amputees in industrialized nations are a population underserved by our technologically advanced society, amputees in developing and post-conflict countries represent a particularly neglected subset.

A practical hand replacement design for the developing world must be easily manufactured, fitted and maintained in extreme environments using locally available resources. Prototypes should be constructed using a toolbox of materials and technologies available in the targeted communities to ensure sustainability, and must take into account ergonomic and social considerations specific to the region. The resources directed to implementing such a design must back an infrastructure capable of delivering it.

We want to help, but we cannot provide all of the necessary pieces to the puzzle. Technical research and development alone will not provide the world with sustainable prostheses, but we see two ways we can help:

First, we are happy to write and publish the design and construction details of devices developed by other people. We know that there are a lot of people who have invented devices and technologies for the developing world but have not published them widely or clearly enough for others to replicate their results. If you are one of these people and don’t mind putting your work into the public domain, please contact us so we can help get it out to the world.

Second, we are interested in collaborating with people working on prosthetics in the developing world. Any information that can help us direct our efforts is welcome, as are any efforts to modify our technology to be cheaper or more appropriate.

To find out more about the challenges of bringing better prosthetic technology to the developing world, see this FAQ.

Also, the Center for International Rehabilitation, in addition to offering technical briefs and training in prosthetic fitting, partners with Ralf Hotchkiss of Whirlwind Wheelchair International to publish this excellent book by Ralf on the technical and business aspects of delivering wheelchairs to low-income regions.