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3D Printing, A Game Changer for Humanitarian Innovation

Rehabilitation
Uganda

In March, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Uganda, where Humanity & Inclusion leads an innovative project designed to help refugees with physical disabilities regain their mobility and autonomy. The 3D Petra project uses 3D-printing technology to produce custom-made orthoses and prostheses for refugees, while trained physiotherapists provide rehabilitation services.

Kennedy comes from South Sudan and suffers from cerebral palsy. A refugee in Uganda with his family, he was taken into HI's care in 2020 and benefited from orthotics produced using 3D printing and physiotherapy sessions.

Kennedy comes from South Sudan and suffers from cerebral palsy. A refugee in Uganda with his family, he was taken into HI's care in 2020 and benefited from orthotics produced using 3D printing and physiotherapy sessions. | © Crolle Agency / HI

In March, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Uganda, where Humanity & Inclusion leads an innovative project designed to help refugees with physical disabilities regain their mobility and autonomy. The 3D Petra project uses 3D-printing technology to produce custom-made orthoses and prostheses for refugees, while trained physiotherapists provide rehabilitation services.

Humanitarian action is often thought of as a reactive response to a sudden emergency, as organizations scurrying to a distant location abruptly overwhelmed by a new crisis. And most of the time, it is. But it is also humanitarian actors proactively and continuously searching for new ways to help those in need, in urgent as well as in more organized contexts.

The 3D Petra project has been implemented in Uganda since 2018, but its genesis goes back to 1982, when Humanity & Inclusion pioneered the development of local low-cost prosthetics using available materials such as bamboo, leather, wood, and tires to help thousands of landmine amputees from Cambodia who had found refuge in Thailand. Today, hundreds of refugees in Uganda benefit from life-changing orthoses and prostheses, as the organisation continues to develop solutions to humanitarian challenges based on the latest discoveries and new uses of technology.

Humanitarian innovation, however, isn’t about technology for technology’s sake. It is about making sure that new solutions are relevant and appropriate, that they address humanitarian needs while being compatible with the characteristics of the local context.

Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa. It also has refugee policies that are among the most progressive in the world. Refugees, most of them fleeing conflicts and natural disasters in neighboring countries, are entitled to work, are granted freedom of movement, and are allowed to use land for housing and farming. This means that if capable, they can enjoy a relatively high degree of autonomy and take advantage of opportunities to make the most of their difficult situation.

However, with more than 1.5 million refugees in the country, the pressure is immense. I was able to witness this firsthand when I visited Kyaka, a camp of 120,000 refugees only four or five hours' drive from the capital, Kampala. The sheer number of people waiting in line for days at the hospital and at Humanity & Inclusion’s care tent showed me how heavy the workload is and pressing the needs are.

For some, the challenges faced in these circumstances are particularly complex. Indeed, many refugees live with a disability, either from a pre-existing condition or as the result of an injury sustained during a conflict or on their long journey towards reaching safety in a foreign country. In a context of overwhelming needs and overstretched resources, people with disabilities can easily find themselves excluded from access to food and water and basic goods and services, not to mention prevented from seeking employment or cultivating land.

It doesn’t have to be like this. With targeted support for inclusion, people with disabilities can access basic services, regain control over their lives, and unlock their potential. This is exactly what Humanity & Inclusion aims to do. The 3D Petra project is bringing radical changes for rehabilitation services in Uganda. 3D technology enables a greater number of different devices to be produced faster and more people in need to be helped. The more it is deployed and, hopefully, expanded through partnerships with additive technology experts and humanitarian action contributors, the more it will bring people into contact with rehabilitation services.

I’ve always felt that being Canadian means valuing what each individual can contribute to the community. At a time when innovations are providing concrete solutions to the most pressing challenges, Canadians can and must extend their reach to their neighbors in need. It's simply about being who we are.

Stéphanie Barker

Volunteer Administrator, Humanity & Inclusion Canada

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