In a conference room in Bangalore, India, two hundred and fifty engineers, clinicians and entrepreneurs are gathered and ready to tackle some of Indian healthcare’s most pertinent problems. The term ‘hacking’ often carries negative connotations, but here, they are hacking to improve health.
As part of a new, USAID-funded partnership with GE Healthcare India and Glocal Healthcare, CAMTech’s first ever healthcare Hackathon (or Jugaad-a-thon, derived from the Hindi word for workaround, jugaad) took place at GE’s John F Welch Technology Center in Bangalore on July 19th this year.
“The Jugaad-a-thon is a new way of elevating the experience and know-how of local experts and using strategies from not just engineering, but also public health and business, to develop new tools to improve health,” said Elizabeth Bailey, Director of the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We’re focused on finding impactful, marketable, and easy-to-adopt ways to change the way we provide care to women and children.”
A Clinical Summit took place prior to the hackathon that brought together experts from the healthcare, engineering and business industries. The Summit identified 75 of the most pressing issues in Indian healthcare, highlighting the need for innovation in mother and child care in particular.
Every year in India, 780,000 babies die on their first day of life, and 56,000 mothers die in childbirth.1 According to the World Health Organization, India suffers from one of the highest mother and child death rates on Earth; which is why, this year, CAMTech’s Jugaad-a-thon is focused on accelerating medical tech innovation in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (or RMNCH).
With only forty eight hours to go from an idea to a prototype to a workable business model, the hackers worked late into the night. The event showed the potential of an exciting new approach to research and development: current-day technologies and healthcare systems were deconstructed and used to complement, or even replace, traditional devices in the context of a developing Indian market. Asked whether this would become an annual event, a CAMTech representative said, “This is the first time such an event is being held in the healthcare industry. Based on [the event’s] success, we will consider repeating this exercise more often.”
This may be first healthcare hackathon in India, but the ‘hacking’ model has proven successful in other industries around the world. Hackathons in Uganda and the United States have yielded innovations that would have otherwise been far slower and more costly to come about by more traditional means.
The top three creations (or jugaads) were awarded monetary prizes along with the chance to see their idea carried further by CAMTech and GE Healthcare India. First prize, Rs. 250,000, went to a mobile application called BabySteps, which aids early diagnosis of developmental delays in children. In second place, with a Rs. 150,000 reward came PEC-Dia, a measurement system developed to diagnose a condition called Cephalo Pelvic Disproportion (CPD, which occurs when the baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis). In third place, with Rs. 75,000, was the Pregmatic, a wearable device that reminds pregnant women about important developmental milestones to be aware of throughout their pregnancy, at which they may need critical care.
In addition to monetary prizes, the winners will also benefit from three years of support and office space at the Mazamdar-Shaw Cancer Center Healthcare Technology Incubator.
When asked about what makes Hackathons so successful, a GE representative replied, “Healthcare innovation for emerging markets requires an ecosystem of partners. It is never achieved by a single company or institution.”
GE Healthcare India has long been hard at work for a healthier India through innovations like the Lullaby series of baby warmers, which was invented by an Indian team of clinicians and engineers. Their priorities have been lowering maternal and infant deaths; enabling early detection of cancer for early treatment and addressing the country’s heart disease burden.
Vikram Damodaran, Director, Healthcare Innovation, India, and GE Healthcare South Asia said, “We have seen several new creative ideas in just 48 hours that can change the way we look at reproductive, maternal and infant care. It is a completely new experience for us and believe co-creation of solutions can accelerate affordable healthcare innovation.”
The Hackathon was also deemed a success by Elizabeth Bailey, who after the event said, “It is a fabulous result! Imagine what we could have achieved with more time! India has a great pool of talent and many world-class innovations are coming out of India. We at CAMTech are very pleased to have pioneered open innovation platforms like Jugaad-a-thon in India to accelerate innovation”.