Due to a lack of widespread quality healthcare and on-the-ground, up-to-date medical training, 470,000 babies die each year in Africa on the day they are born. This figure increases to 1 million deaths within the first 28 days.
To help overcome this challenge, Oxford professor Mike English, along with his team of 5, wants to improve the education and experience of people already on the ground, avoiding the often prohibitive costs and logistics required to integrate an ongoing flow of new resources. They want to do so by leveraging technology; English’s team has created Life-saving Instruction For Emergencies (LIFE), a 3D and virtual reality game which is designed to simulate actual scenarios medical workers might have to face in the real world.
The reason the medical training has been designed as a game is because it encourages repetition through achievements so that in cases of real emergency, the critical steps and process can become automatic. According to the team’s Oxford-hosted crowdfunding campaign,
LIFE is a scenario-based mobile gaming platform that will teach healthcare workers to identify and manage medical emergencies, using game-like training techniques to reinforce the key steps that need to be performed for a healthcare worker to save the life of a newborn baby in distress.
Although the VR and gamification components of the experience is fairly recent, the underlying curriculum surrounding the software isn’t. It is built on the ETAT+ medical training course which was developed in 2006 specifically for implementing care in East Africa to ensure newborns and children in poverty could receive quality medical care wherever it’s needed. Over the past decade, the program has been extensively proven with over 5000 health-care workers and 3000 students in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and most recently, Myanmar.
“The LIFE project is both innovative and transformative,” says Dr. Wilson Were of the World Health Organization’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health. “It shows the way we should think about and take advantage of the changing technological landscape in Africa.”
Despite the relative lack of technology access in the region, many healthcare workers in Africa do have “entry level” smartphones, and sales of smartphones capable of running 3D games topped 3.5 million units (in a population of 40 million) in 2014 in Kenya. The numbers are growing rapidly and point to a near future, with the help of charitable donation, where inexpensive smartphones and VR headsets (the Virtoba X5, for example, is under $50) could be provided to more healthcare professionals (and perhaps citizens) for a variety of medical training experiences.
We need a system that enables everyone to access and learn the essential steps to save babies in an emergency. This is what we will achieve with our LIFE platform. We will make it available so that healthcare workers with a basic smartphone can download the game and learn or revise essential knowledge regularly.
Back in August the game won a seed grant from Saving Lives at Birth, a competition that awards technology innovators focusing on maternal and infant health in developing nations. So far the crowdfunding campaign for LIFE has raised over £62,000 from 168 donors and 177 supporters. Although the campaign is over, donations can still be sent to the University of Oxford through this link.
It is likely that we will see this technology permeating the education and training spaces more and more in the coming years. Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California is already offering a “virtual dissection table” and a holographic virtual anatomy lab, amongst other VR experiences. Pennsylvania State University has received funding to build a virtual engineering lab that allows students to actually use their hands to interact with virtual objects.
As we’ve written before, virtual reality can help fix real reality, especially when it comes to marginal but critical education regarding emergency medical care. Let’s hope everyone gets the memo.
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