Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Technology could hold the key to saving the lives of thousands

Sometimes it appears that the world is tearing itself apart at the seams. The devastation in Syria and the migrant crisis it precipitated, El Niño in the Pacific, earthquakes in Chile, hurricanes in the US, typhoons, Isis – the list of both natural and manmade disasters feels like it’s getting longer with every day.

And it is. In 1980, there were only about 100 hydro-meteorological disasters reported per year but that number has risen to over 300 since 2000. A study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies found in May this year that despite fewer wars, violence has intensified in those that occur, killing three times as many people than in 2008. As a result, the need for emergency care in difficult-to-reach, dangerous and remote locations is rising rapidly. And next week, London will become central to meeting this demand.

Now in its fourth year, the World Extreme Medical Expo – in London for its annual conference from 26–29 October – is dedicated to the sharing and spreading of best practice for the world’s medical professionals willing to risk themselves to help others. Speakers range from Sir Ranulph Fiennes discussing the body in extreme environments to Dr David Nott, a specialist surgeon who spends several months each year working for Médecins Sans Frontières, discussing his work in Syria.

Rapid growth in the global population means we are tempting nature with rapid and unplanned urbanisation in flood-prone, geologically unstable and politically volatile regions. Climate change is intensifying the effect of natural disasters.

Any crisis – manmade or natural – is capable of causing more damage to more people than ever before. There is a desperate need for new solutions and better techniques to amplify the work that medical teams carry out. So this year, the conference is launching its first-ever innovation prize, designed to inspire and accelerate technological innovation in the field of remote medicine.

Technology is increasingly key to all our lives and extreme medicine is no different – the potential for innovation to save lives in these harsh, often poorly resourced, environments is huge. Better communications would aid those in situ to seek advice from world experts and better direct supplies. Portable, hardy devices that can diagnose and triage would help ensure those most in need get the care to save their lives.

Medics in conflict zones and areas hit by the onset of sudden natural disasters, arctic explorers and those providing medical support in pre-hospital environments desperately need support – and technology may hold the key to saving the lives of thousands.

The prize is open to businesses and entrepreneurs with market-ready or late-prototype stage technology or products that are at the forefront of medical innovation. Successfully chosen startups will pitch to a judging panel at the conference on 27 October and the winner will walk away with £10,000 to help transform their innovation into action.

The conference is also hosting a hackathon around three themes – mass emigration from Syria, the earthquakes that affected Nepal and Chile this year and 2014’s ebola outbreak. Five teams of developers and designers will have just one day to solve some of the biggest challenges in remote and extreme medicine, aiming to create a portable diagnosis machine and improve communications capabilities in areas with little infrastructure.

We can often point to how practical digital technology has done so much to transform our lives – from instant email communications and speedy Amazon deliveries to free, knowledge-sharing Wikipedia. But medical technology is often so far behind – the x-ray is over 100 years old, the trusty stethoscope is celebrating its 200th birthday, the pacemaker will be 80 next year – even the portable defibrillator is 50 years old.

An update to medical technology is overdue. The digital revolution, applied to medicine, has the capacity to help save tens of thousands every year. How great that the Extreme World Medical Expo is grasping the opportunity.

With its help, perhaps we can begin to help mitigate the scale of future disasters.
You may also like:

No comments :

Post a Comment