Motorbike medical clinics, Bluetooth enabled health kits, a Smartphone app to help diabetics monitor their blood sugar: these were just a few of the health care ideas on display at the World Innovation Summit for Health, held last month in Qatar. The Summit, also known as WISH, brought together government officials, academic and business professionals and medical innovators from across the globe, for the purpose of demonstrating and discussing how new innovations are tackling modern health care challenges.
One example of an exciting health care innovation is the motorbike medical clinic. It’s an idea conceived by British engineer Mike Norman, who has already designed and created a motorbike ambulance – the eRanger Ambulance. With the eRanger, people in rural communities can be brought to the hospital quickly and at a low cost to the community. The invention has proved especially useful for pregnant women who wish to give birth in hospital. Mike Norman’s motorbike medical clinic is based upon the eRanger model: a medical staff member can drive the motorbike clinic into a rural area and offer health care services such as vaccinations, blood pressure checks and even minor surgeries.
The motorbike medical clinic means that rural dwellers do not have to walk the multiple kilometers (often more than 20) to get to their nearest health center; instead, the care will come to them. The motorbike upon which the clinic rests has been modified to handle the rough terrain of rural areas, with specially engineer brakes, tires and gears. At the moment the cost of one motorbike medical clinic is around US$6,500. The program is being piloted in South Africa, and Norman has said that he expects the motorbike clinics to be useful in other parts of the developing world too.
Intelligent designs and thoughtful innovations such as Mike Norman’s motorbike clinic are the reason that Qatar’s World Innovation Summit for Health exists. The Summit held its inaugural run in 2012, with the support of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. As Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, Her Highness Nasser has focused much of her work on improving health care both in Qatar and around the world. Ms. Nasser herself announced the World Innovation Summit for Health last year, while speaking at the Global Health Policy Summit in London. During her speak, Ms. Nasser told delegates that she looked forward to the exchange of ideas and innovations at WISH 2013.
The World Innovation Summit for Health 2013 took place on December 10 and 11, and it’s fair to say that the swapping of health care initiatives Ms. Nasser hoped for did indeed occur. The Summit was divided into eight groups with eight distinct themes, including Mental Health, Road Traffic Injury and End-of-Life Care. A forum was held for each of these themes, wherein presenters and audience members could discuss the health care needs and recent innovations related to that particular topic. For example, the forum on the theme of Antimicrobial Resistance examined how global resistance to superbugs is increasing, and what countries can do to prevent it – awareness campaigns on counterfeit antibiotics, and new research into fighting contagious disease.
Along with showcases of health care themes and innovations, Summit attendees also heard from speakers such as GE Healthcare CEO and President John Dineen; Mayor of London Boris Johnson; and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma’s National League for Democracy. The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s speech at WISH focused on the problems her country’s health care system is facing, talking about poor management as well as a lack of medical equipment. Suu Kyi also brought up the problem of poverty, expressing a hope that in the future, health care in Burma and around the world will be available to all regardless of personal wealth.
Apart from organizing this internationally-attended event, Qatar’s Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development also released a report during the Summit: The Global Diffusion of Health Innovation report. In this document, researchers explain their work in figuring out what factors lead to health care advancements, and how those advancements can travel from one country to another. By examining health care innovations from nations such as Brazil, the UK and South Africa, researchers compiled charts demonstrating how medical innovations travel, and where they go. According to the report, one of the best ways of spreading a new health innovation, such as the motorbike medical clinic, is to demonstrate its usefulness to staff working on the front lines of care – doctors, nurses and clinicians must be shown the effectiveness of a new health care product or method in order for that innovation to spread.
The Global Diffusion of Health Innovation report also identified information technology as a key method of spreading new medical ideas and pioneering products. The Bluetooth-enabled health kit in India, for example, allows health workers in rural India to provide basic check-ups, and in South Africa, the Vodacom mobile phone company has worked with clinics to provide a program wherein patients can upload medical information through their phone. Even simple innovations such as introducing electronic records in Spain have helped doctors to treat patients faster and with more accuracy.
Over the past few years, Qatar has been a champion of comprehensive, affordable health care for its citizens, and with the World Innovation Summit for Health, this small nation has shown its concern for the rest of the world too. Innovation is indeed an important aspect of improving global health, and with collaborative events such as WISH, new advancements in health seem likely to increase, and to spread.