Every 8 out of 10 people in the developing nations live in need of prosthetic care. In regions where amputees and disabled citizens are not aided by the law, a hand typically costs a person their living; they would say, a hand is priceless. Reality, again, is quite in their disfavor since standard prosthetic hands come with a price tag which is well beyond reach for most amputees in the emergent countries. For instance, average price of a standard prosthetic arm starts from Canadian dollar (CAD) 12,000 for basic functional models to CAD 70,000 for advanced models.
Dr. Nikolai Dechev, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, Canada initiated a non-profit project titled Victoria Hand Project with the aim of distributing low cost upper limb prosthetics to the unindustrialized nations with little or no available prosthetic care facilities. Along with his team, he has succeeded in creating trans-radial prosthetics for only CAD 320 using 3D printers and spools of plastic.
The Victoria Hand is a complete body-powered prosthetic consisting of a hand, a wrist, a limb-socket, and a harness. The design is based on the original TBM Hand prosthesis developed by Professor Dechev during his Masters at the University of Toronto. The prosthesis has a rotatable thumb, back-lock mechanism and a ball and socket wrist allowing the user to perform seven different kinds of grips.
Few of the assembled VHP hands for Nepal Trial
The vast difference in price is definitely the key distinguisher between the Victoria Hand and a traditional prosthesis. It is however closely followed by the superior functionality and adaptability of the Victoria Hand. The prosthesis is highly customizable and capable of adaptive grasp. The VHP team uses 3D laser scanning to determine the distinctive anatomy of an amputee’s limb, and then custom 3D prints the prosthesis based on the scan.
Under the noble cause of providing a prosthetic device to anybody who needs and wants one in the developing regions, Victoria Hand Project is currently working in Guatemala and Nepal, with the intention to fit 100 amputees with free upper limb prosthetics.
But the ultimate goal of Victoria Hand Project goes beyond merely providing free prosthesis to a finite number of people. It looks to establish the needed infrastructure in these countries so they can independently print and fit their patients themselves, even after the campaign ends. The Project will not only offer solutions but also provide the processes to ‘create the solutions’ in the future.
Throughout the campaign, the Project is aiming to establish a 3D-Print Centre and equip it with all the technology and tools required to make 3D printed prosthetics. They will also train and employ a full-time 3D printing technician from the local community.
Victoria Hand Project has two clinical partners in their selected countries – Range of Motion Project in Guatemala and the Nepal Orthopedic Hospital in Nepal. These clinical partners serve to bridge the gap between the VHP team and the locals, and also provide the necessary medical and infrastructural expertise required to carry out the campaign.
Patrick Mathay, Executive Director of Range in Motion Project (ROMP) fits a VHP hand onto a participant, as VHP director Nick Dechev watches during Guatemala trial.
The estimated startup costs along with fitting of 50 amputees for the Victoria Hand Project stands at CAD 94,000, which is being collected through crowd-funding support via indiegogo.com. For every CAD 320 collected in excess of this money, they will provide one extra amputee with free prosthetic care.
The Victoria Hand Project has completed its clinical trials in Guatemala already. It has recently conducted the first phase of the Nepal trials. The fitting of amputees in Nepal is set to begin in December 2015 and in Guatemala by February 2016. They also aim to establish service in Cambodia soon.
When asked about plans on expanding to countries like Bangladesh, Saeedul Alam, an UVic engineering graduate working closely with the project said, “The VHP looks to focus on developing nations, and Bangladesh is most definitely a viable option provided we find a co-operative clinical partner in the area.”
VHP Nepal team, clockwise from left: Pranay Shrestha. Pranav Shrestha, Joshua Coutts, Saeedul Alam
Cover image: Parts of 3d printed hand, freshly printed out from a 3D printer, ready to assemble. All other images used in this article are courtesy of Saeedul Alam/Victoria Hand Project.