Global Health Hackathon encourages collaboration, innovation

What do a guitar string and a raw chicken leg have in common? They’re the ticket to the first-place prize for innovative solutions to global health problems at Baylor College of Medicine’s inaugural Global Health Hackathon.

“A hackathon is an event that brings together people from different disciplines to come up with solutions to particular problems,” said Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy, director of Baylor Global Initiatives. “In this case, we’re bringing together students, faculty and people from industry to solve critical problems in global health.”

With the goal of developing innovative solutions to clinical issues from underserved areas worldwide, the event brought together healthcare professionals, engineers and businesspeople for 24 hours to “hack.”

The hackers were welcomed by Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor, who gave them an overview of the College and of the Texas Medical Center. Klotman also served as a judge for the event.

“It’s going to be a great 24 hours – I’m excited for you,” he said.

Participants were reminded that their ideas should impact global health through collaboration and that their concepts should be culturally and socially appropriate.

The clinical problems were focused on surgical and procedural care, women’s health and emergency response. Dr. Joseph Sclafani, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor, presented his clinical problem from Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, via Skype.

After all of the clinical problems were presented, hackers were invited to individually present an initial pitch so interested participants could begin forming groups.

One of the biggest resources available to the participants was the ability to seek advice from mentors in various specialty areas: clinical medicine or biomedical sciences, engineering, social sciences, business administration and management and information technology. Mentors wore color-coded capes depending on their area of specialty so that participants could easily locate them.

After 24 hours of ‘hacking,’ each group was invited to give a pitch to the judges. The final winners were:

1st place: Hackascope – build a low-cost endoscope to create opportunities to do endoscopy in low-resource settings

2nd place: Red Zone – A device to record and transmit patient information from the red zone of an Ebola suspect ward to a green zone. The custom device uses existing raspberry pi technology to send data in the red zone

3rd place: Malawi Healthy Mothers – a training and educational program to integrate traditional healers in rural villages to improve prenatal care for women, reducing premature births and labor emergencies

The winning team used guitar strings, a 3D printer and even a raw chicken leg to come up with their final concept and pitch.

“We hope this will be the first of many Hackathons for our global programs,” said Anandasabapathy. “I am amazed by the quality of the innovations that were produced and by enthusiasm and camaraderie of the teams.”

Watch the video to see the Hackathon in action.