ASSAM, India–When Dr. Vijay Anand Ismavel and his wife, Ann Miriam, took control of the Makunda Christian Leprosy & General Hospital in 1992, the building was in ruins. The facility had been abandoned for almost a decade, left to decay in a remote area in southern Assam, a rural state in northeast India.
The couple had to improvise to supply the hospital with even the most basic resources, collecting rainwater in buckets outside their home.
“There was no money, so we couldn’t buy anything. There was no water or electricity,” Dr. Ismavel remembers about his early days as superintendent.
But the couple persevered and made due with what they could get, and today the hospital serves around 90 thousand patients and performs more than two thousand major surgeries annually.
Most of the patients who arrive at Makunda do not have health insurance or the means to pay out of pocket, so revenue for the hospital remains scarce. Therefore, keeping Makunda afloat while providing quality healthcare has required tremendous innovation on the parts of Dr. Ismavel, his wife and all of those involved with making the hospital as efficient as it is today. Every element of Makunda, from technologies and equipment to business modeling, has to be as streamlined as possible.
Since the early 90’s, Makunda has grown a lot, acquiring more up to date equipment and highly trained staff. But the officials and physicians at the hospital still need to innovate to keep their healthcare services affordable. For Makunda, innovation is not just about saving money; it’s the only means for staying open with their limited budget.
“We need simple tools that could help salvage ‘clean’ blood from body cavities for auto-transfusion, or an app that could help patients living in remote areas who need emergency care arrive at the hospital safely,” Dr. Ismavel said in a blog post, listing just a couple examples of innovations that they hope to employ at Makunda in the near future.
While inspiring, Makunda’s story is not totally unique—healthcare providers around the world in developing countries must innovate in similar ways to serve patients where funding and supplies may be limited or nonexistent.
Still, billions of people either cannot afford quality healthcare or simply live where such resources are unavailable. For that reason the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) has partnered with GE Sustainable Healthcare Solutions to spur innovations in affordable healthcare with their latest initiative, the First Mile Discovery Challenge.
According to CAMTech’s website, the companies are calling for applicants to “identify the biggest unmet needs in primary health care that can inform the development of new solutions to improve the reach, efficacy, and efficiency of frontline healthcare workers.” The challenges must focus on burdens of maternal and neonatal health, surgery and cardiovascular health in low and middle-income countries. Ten winners will be awarded one thousand dollars to jumpstart their healthcare innovations, which may take a range of angles, from how data is collected to how patients get to hospitals.
The First Mile Discovery Challenge is not the first initiative of its kind, or the largest. GE has for a long time pioneered innovations in healthcare technology, like the Vscan portable ultrasound, which health workers have carried in their pockets into remote areas in East Africa. In some cases, the company commits hundreds of millions of dollars toward projects.
CAMTech is on a smaller scale compared to GE, but with a relatively nuanced platform—the group, based at Massachusetts General Hospital, is a crowd-sourced network of healthcare innovators from around the world. The consortium’s partners include renowned research institutes like Harvard Medical School and far-reaching government organizations like USAID India.
CAMTech is always trying to spur innovation and share ideas. Among the winners of previous CAMTech innovation challenges was the Whitesides Research Group, which the consortium granted 100 thousand dollars in 2015 toward developing simple and affordable diagnostics for Sickle Cell Disease.
CAMTech’s grassroots formation has enabled it to find innovators like Dr. Ismavel, who published his story on the group’s blog on August 22.
“At hospitals like Makunda, innovation is critical for developing affordable medical technologies,” Dr. Ismavel wrote, “we must work together.”
Indeed those who are a part of the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies hope that by working together, they can identify and bring into being much needed innovations that will make quality healthcare a reality for people living in poverty.
– Charlie Tomb