3D printers used for prosthetic limbs in Syria conflict

Tony Canning holds prosthetic hand Image copyright Tony Connolly
Image caption Tony Canning said everyone in Jordan has been very welcoming

A County Donegal man is using 3D printing techniques that he learned in Northern Ireland to help make prosthetic limbs for casualties of the conflict in Syria.

Tony Canning moved to Jordan in February to work for a company that makes affordable prosthetics.

Refugee Open Ware uses fabrication laboratories, or 'fab labs', that can make prosthetics in 36 hours using tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D scanners.

Mr Canning said he had learned a huge amount from the 'fab lab' in Londonderry's Nerve Centre and its sister facility in Belfast.

"I responded to a three-month contract that was advertised through the 'fab lab' foundation community in Derry and Belfast, which is part of a global network," he told BBC Radio Foyle.

'Serious injuries'

Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule.

Syria's bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.

Prosthetics - such as a hand, arm or leg - are needed by an estimated 30 million people worldwide, but many are forced to do without due to a lack of skilled technicians to make them.

Mr Canning said "medical prosthetics are $30,000 (£20,000) and upwards but we produce them at a cost of around $50 (£33)".

"This cost is absorbed and there is no cost to the patients," he said.

"And of course, because we can produce quite quickly, that cost can be saved many times over when dealing with children growing up and needing a larger prosthetic."

Image copyright Tony Canning
Image caption The limbs can be printed within 36 hours

The 38-year-old from Letterkenny said that while he was based in the Jordanian capital Amman rather than a refugee camp, "we have seen some very serious injuries".

"In non-conflict zones people suffer similar injuries and may lose a finger in a household accident, but here what we are seeing is people who have lost complete or partial digits on one or both hands and very often have complex burns as well," he said.

"We use a 3D monitoring program to do designs which then can be put onto an SD card or sent electronically to a 3D printer which can then squeeze out heated plastic at a fairly swift rate and build up in three dimensions any product that you have designed."

Mr Canning said the firm was currently concentrating on upper limb prosthetics.

"We aren't funded by any political body but through donations," he said.

"We're hoping to be the first 'fab lab' in the world located in a refugee camp."

He said living close to a refugee camp was an often moving experience.

"Families being packed into very small places means that parents don't have privacy, and children grow up thinking this is normal," he said.

"Very simple things can produce massive social issues.

"We specialise in upper limb prosthetics but transforming lives is a slow process and we are under no illusions that we are not a production line.

"I wouldn't say I'm holding back the tears but my heart does melt every day."

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