How 3D-printed prosthetics will help the disabled cope on job market


Equipment at Fablab Rwanda, the fabrication factory that will soon start printing prosthetics. / Nadege Imbabazi

Fablab Rwanda, a fabrication factory will start printing prosthetics using the latest 3D printing technology to help people who have lost limbs, hands or legs.

3D printing technology is a process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.

Serge Tuyihimbaze, the community and innovation director at FabLab, says that the technology will help people who have lost body parts like hands, legs get artificial ones, something that will aid them continue doing work like any other person.

“We can now print small materials with this kind of technology, but we are planning to start printing artificial limbs to help people who have lost body parts through accidents, diseases or war. Very soon we will start printing legs and arms,” Tuyihimbaze says.

Though Tuyihimbaze did not disclose the cost of the service, the technology was invented to reduce the cost of some materials found at a higher price.

In the United States alone, close to 200,000 amputations are performed each year, yet, with prosthetics priced from $5,000-$50,000, having one can almost be considered a luxury.

However, as 3D printers become more affordable, with some available for less than $200, the possibility of anyone being able to design and print a prosthetic limb in their home or local community is rapidly becoming a reality, says TechCrunch; an American online publisher of technology industry news.

Lambert Rulindana, a member of FabLab, says that the technology will help people who have lost body parts like hands. / Nadege Imbabazi

44- year old Marcel Bayituriki, a father of three was a bus driver who lost his arm in an accident and ended up becoming a conductor.

He distributes tickets at Kimironko bus station in the city of Kigali using only one arm with a lot of difficulty.

Bayituriki holds the ticket booklet between his legs and cuts them one by one using his one hand to give to passengers who look astonished and touched at the same time.

When Bayituriki wants to give back, sometimes he holds the money in his mouth in order to reach into his pockets, disregarding the fact that the money has passed into many hands and is a health risk.

Bayituriki told The New Times about his long journey that removed him from being a bus driver and ended up a conductor after losing his right arm in accident.

“Passengers do not complain that I take long trying to serve them and I think even normal conductors are not more efficient than I am. It does not bother me at all and my workmates are proud of me as I don’t use my disability as an excuse for begging,” he said.

Bayituriki holds a driving license and calls on help to get a prosthetic to enable him drive again. / Elisee Mpirwa

He has no specific bus that he works with as different drivers keep on hiring him day after day, and a day cannot pass without gaining money to cater for his family.

About his accident

In 2007, he was involved in an accident losing an arm while driving a Toyota Hiace minibus taking 18 passengers to Rubavu district.

The minibus was his and bankrupted him athough insurance covered the hospital bills and the rest was used to buy a house in which he still lives in at Kivugiza cell in Nyamirambo sector.

Bayituriki, who was driving for former ATRACO, approached the management of the company one year after the accident to apply for the surveillance of bus drivers as he could no longer drive. He couldn’t get the job though.

“As their former employee I think I should have been helped to get a job but they did not care about me,” he stressed.

Later in the beginning of 2014, Bayituriki decided to come to his former workmates that decided to offer him to be their conductor, the job that now helps him cater for his children.

Bayituriki still drives automatic cars, but if facilitated with an artificial hand he can drive a manual one.

“I once wrote to the traffic police commander about my case and he told me I could drive an automatic as I still hold a driving license. If only I could get help from a donor that can provide me with an artificial hand, there is no doubt I can get back to work,” he said.