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Affordable technologies for global impact UCL IHE & WEISS visit TO india, april 2019

Our visit

In April 2019, UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering (IHE) and Wellcome / EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) visited Delhi, India to advance partnerships around affordable technologies.

We visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Delhi), both world-renowned centres of excellence in frugal innovation for healthcare.

This trip built on previous visits from UCL representatives, including the UCL President and Provost Prof Michael Arthur, and collaborations being led by our Pro Vice Provost South Asia, Prof Monica Lakhanpaul.

Photo: Dr Rebecca Shipley (Director, IHE) and Prof Danail Stoyanov (Deputy Director, WEISS) outside AIIMS.

Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D)

IIT-Delhi is renowned for its expertise in robotics, computer science, assistive technology, smart materials and biopharmaceuticals. The strong synergies between the healthcare engineering work being done at UCL and the research at IIT-Delhi provide ripe opportunity for partnerships.

All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi

AIIMS is India's number one hospital for research. The hospital is a city in itself with 50,000 daily footfall. The staggering volume and diversity of cases combined with clinical excellence provide incredible potential for collaboration.

Jugaad: a Hindi concept which loosely translates as an improvised solution born out of ingenuity in adversity. This approach is central to India's position as world-leaders in frugal innovation.

Applying engineering technologies to tackle the globe's biggest healthcare challenges

Developing innovative technologies that are also affordable is a necessity in the healthcare landscape of emerging economies like India, as medical practitioners often have to deliver services where infrastructure is limited. Within India a significant proportion of its 1.4 billion citizens live near or below the poverty line and medical care is generally paid for out of their own pockets, meaning that product development must be inexpensive in order for it to be adopted.

What is significant, is that this low-cost constraint has not compromised the quality of the healthcare innovations coming out of India. Affordable, effective and accessible alternative solutions are being created for patients with regularity.

Collaboration with our Indian partners offers exciting potential for bidirectional learning. It is a chance to explore how the kind of digital and engineering technologies that we are developing at UCL could be applied to effectively work in low-resource settings. By working with partners on the ground we can get a better sense of what the real challenges are and what is needed to make technologies translatable and usable.

There is also a lot to be learnt from India's approach to affordable innovation. As the NHS faces its own resource constraints, this need has become particularly pertinent. Reversing a frugal mindset back into our own UK-based research offers the potential to save the NHS significant resources, which could then be directed toward patient care instead.

Some photos from our tour around India's leading research hospital, AIIMS New Delhi
Exploring the sights and sounds of colourful Delhi

Our global focus

Global health technology is one of our priority research areas and we have established a dedicated Global Delivery team within IHE to support this. We are proud of our extensive links with other international institutions and are committed to maintaining a truly global outlook through shared expertise and mutual learning.

From wearable brain scanners that reveal cerebral damage in the world's malnourished children, to a robot-automated system that can provide fast and accurate malaria diagnosis. And from a manufacturing platform that produces life-saving vaccines for less than 15 cents a dose, to mobile phone technologies that test for and help treat HIV - UCL's healthcare engineers are involved in a staggering range of global projects.

Just this month, a team co-led by Prof Stoyanov (WEISS) was granted £1million to use space technology to fight bowel cancer worldwide. Crucially, the use of satellite technology will connect clinics and hospitals anywhere to the cloud. This means that the AI system for diagnosis could be deployed as effectively in rural, low-resource communities as in leading specialist hospitals.

The above examples are just a glimpse of the diverse global research that is ongoing within UCL's healthcare engineering community - but we want to do more. Growing our partnerships with valued centres of international excellence such as AIIMS and IIT is an exciting and crucial next step.

Case-study of existing UCL and IIT-Delhi research collaboration

A UCL research team led by Dr Cathy Holloway, IHE management member and Director of the Global Disability Innovation Hub, are developing wheelchair-accessible maps of Delhi with partners from IIIT-Delhi.

The Street Rehab team has developed low-cost sensors that can identify features of the sidewalk and gauge how the wheelchair or tricycle users propel themselves. The sensors are linked to the user’s mobile phone, to make their mobility device part of the Internet of Things, and to enable users to access the sensor data via an app.

“Infrastructure in India can often make pushing a wheelchair or tricycle difficult. We’re trying to identify how people are currently getting around in Delhi, to find new ways of facilitating rehabilitation and identifying ways to improve infrastructure," said Dr Holloway.

“Development of assistive technologies for empowerment of people with disabilities is extremely important. To achieve social and economic inclusion through research and innovation, UCL and IIT-Delhi will have joint activities in design, development and dissemination of assistive technology which sits between economic burden and economic prosperity,” said Professor P. V. Madhusudhan Rao (IIT-Delhi).

Learn more about the Street Rehab project.

Find out more at our Global Healthcare Engineering Symposium

We are hosting an all-day Symposium on 8 July, bringing together UCL researchers in global health and healthcare technologies to share experiences and learn from each others' experiences.

Hear talks about the current global healthcare landscape, as well as the opportunities and challenges for researchers. During the workshop sessions, take a deeper dive into the unique topics affecting global healthcare research, explore practical and logisitical challenges and learn about available funding.

Explore multi-sectoral approaches to improve child health at UCL-India collaborative event

There is also an opportunity to find out more about our UCL-India collaborations on 18 June at a PANChSHEEEL (Participatory Approach for Nutrition in Children: Strengthening Health, Education, Environment and Engineering Linkage) event focused on “Challenges and opportunities for multi-sectoral approaches targeted to improve child health in first 1001 days”.

The project is a collaboration between UCL, Save the Children, IIIT-Delhi and JNU India. The event will present on the study findings, as well as discuss integrated approaches to tackling issues around infant and child health and wellbeing in India.

Contact us

We're always interested to hear from potential collaborators, curious members of the public or interested others. Find out more by visiting our website and get in touch via email at healthcare-eng@ucl.ac.uk or Twitter at @health_eng.

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Georgie Cade
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Created with images by Ricardo IV Tamayo - "untitled image" • tere13ya - "mother son india"

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