Health and Healthcare

This non-profit is using 3D-printing technology to give refugees the gift of hearing

Advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing will be key to creating more inclusive healthcare.

Advanced manufacturing techniques like 3D printing will be key to creating more inclusive healthcare. Image: Unsplash/Mark Paton

Jason Szolomayer
Founder, 3DP4ME
Maria Basso
Digital Technologies Portfolio Manager, World Economic Forum
Adam Gavin
Impact Communications Specialist, Foundations, World Economic Forum
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  • The rapidly advancing technological landscape is enabling innovative solutions to bridge the healthcare access gap across the world.
  • Not-for-profit organization 3DP4ME uses additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, to provide hearing aids for children in Jordanian refugee camps.
  • The company's work highlights how advanced manufacturing techniques are vital in creating a more equitable and inclusive future of healthcare for all.

What if new technology could help improve the lives of those less fortunate and without access to services we take for granted?

3DP4ME, a not-for-profit organization working in Jordan, is addressing this issue using 3D printing to provide hearing aids to refugee children, who would otherwise have no access to a hearing solution.

In a rapidly advancing technological landscape, innovative solutions are emerging to bridge the healthcare access gap for underserved communities around the world – and one such groundbreaking approach lies in additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.

Instead of shaping or cutting materials as in traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing adds material in a controlled manner to create the desired object.

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The process starts with a digital design that serves as a blueprint for the 3D printer. The printer then builds the product by depositing or solidifying materials layer by layer according to the design specifications.

In large manufacturing industries, additive manufacturing can help produce complex components for the aerospace and automotive industries, create customized consumer products, and even manufacture medical implants and prosthetics.

Additionally, 3D printing enables the creation of customized, cost-effective and locally produced medical devices, bringing about a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery. The potential of advanced manufacturing technologies to improve society and foster inclusivity is therefore undeniable.

From personalized medical devices that empower individuals with unique needs to locally produced solutions that bridge gaps in healthcare access, innovative technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, additive manufacturing and cloud computing are vital for a more inclusive future.

3D printing can improve lives of those with hearing loss

3DP4ME (3D Printing for ME) is a US-based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with hearing loss in underserved communities in Jordan.

With a vision to establish a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility equipped with advanced 3D scanning, design and printing capabilities provide scalable solutions for various assistive devices to those in need. Through these, 3DP4ME combines cutting-edge technology with a humanitarian focus to make a lasting impact.

Hearing loss poses a significant and multifaceted challenge in Jordan and Syria, influenced by factors such as chronic middle ear infections, medication toxicity, genetic disorders and sound pollution.

The prevalence of hearing impairment in the country demands urgent attention due to its wide-ranging ramifications.

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Insufficient access to quality hearing healthcare leads to compromised educational opportunities, communication difficulties and social isolation for the affected population.

Additionally, hearing impairment takes a toll on families and individuals, limiting their livelihoods and prospects for employment.

By collaborating with other international NGOs, adopting innovative localization techniques and providing a comprehensive support system, 3DP4ME aims to ensure that beneficiaries receive the necessary care, support and resources to thrive in their daily lives.

Girl has her ear scanned in order to fit a 3D printed hearing aid.
Girl has her ear scanned in order to fit a 3D printed hearing aid. Image: 3DP4ME

Through their advanced technology, personalized approach, and holistic support, 3DP4ME seeks to empower individuals with hearing impairments and improve their communication abilities – thereby positively transforming their lives.

3DP4ME also works with other international NGOs in order to pool resources, share expertise and extend the initiative’s impact. Partners bring their expertise, as well as advocate for inclusivity, accessibility and equal opportunities for those with disabilities.

Dozens fitted with 3D printed hearing aids

So far, 3DP4ME has provided 52 children with custom-fit hearing aids by taking a 3D scan of their ears to create a silicone earmould.

Recently, the organization received a list of 500 potential candidates with hearing loss to help them identify and reach individuals in need.

Sam Onukuri, former head of 3D Printing Innovation and Customer Solutions at Johnson & Johnson and advisor to 3DP4ME, believes the digital workflow for 3D printing, instruments and templates for medical devices can transform the clinical outcomes and efficiency of surgeries.

Onukuri also says that digital work enables personalized solutions for patients and democratizes access to healthcare, adding there have been significant technological advancements through artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled algorithms to read and extrapolate patient scans, including low-dose CT, to create digital anatomical models with high accuracy.

This advancement has greatly improved the speed and accuracy of personalized design based on the digital anatomical model. 3D scanning and printing technology also enables rapid customization of hearing aids and improves geographical access to healthcare.

Additionally, the comprehensive support system, including speech therapy sessions and regular follow-up visits, ensures a holistic approach to rehabilitation and monitors progress.

Power of advanced manufacturing in healthcare

The pioneering work of organizations like 3DP4ME in providing 3D-printed hearing aids in Jordan exemplifies the power of technology to bridge the gap in healthcare and improve the lives of those in need.

In addition to hearing aids, 3D printing can facilitate the production of prosthetics, orthotics, dental devices and more, enabling tailored healthcare solutions on a larger scale. However, their mission is not without challenges.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

Addressing material limitations, technical expertise and education requires continuous research, advancements, and collaboration among industry stakeholders.

As 3DP4ME and others continue to explore and harness the capabilities of advanced manufacturing, a more equitable and inclusive future of healthcare is on the horizon.

We encourage everyone in the industrial ecosystem to actively consider leveraging advanced manufacturing to drive responsible industry transformation.

By embracing collaboration and being creative about applying advanced technologies such as 3D printing, we can usher in an era of progress that leaves no-one behind.

To learn more about the opportunities and challenges facing additive manufacturing, read An Additive Manufacturing Breakthrough: A How-to Guide for Scaling and Overcoming Key Challenges from the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Supply Chains.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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