Healthcare hackathon organizers seek to be ‘light unto others’

Indian, Israeli techies come up with solutions to provide health services to low-income communities.

The campus of Tel Aviv University (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
The campus of Tel Aviv University
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
The vision behind a threeday hackathon held simultaneously in Israel and India was the Jewish value of being “a light unto other nations,” says Aliza Inbal, founder and director of the Pears Program for Global Innovation at Tel Aviv University. The event, the Med4Dev India Israel Affordable Healthcare Hackathon, was the brainchild of the Pears Program.
The hackathon came to a close Sunday evening as eight winning teams, one for each of eight challenges presented to participants, scooped up their prizes for developing affordable healthcare solutions for some of the most urgent medical needs of India’s poor. All four cities involved –Tel Aviv, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore – participated in the ceremony via live video streaming.
Some 1,000 techies, entrepreneurs and health practitioners from both countries worked through the weekend to come up with innovative ways to tackle healthcare problems faced by India’s low-income and low-middle income communities.
Participants had face-toface and online access to dozens of top industry mentors and competed for cash prizes, mentoring packages, and placements in an Indian- Israeli healthcare accelerator to help them transform their ideas into successful ventures.
Participants were presented with challenges such as finding technological solutions for administering cancer drugs and managing chemotherapy side effects in the face of a drastic lack of oncologists in remote areas; or offering solutions for screening and diagnosis of hearing impairment disorders for India’s estimated 60 million hearing-disabled population.
TAU doctoral student Moran Neuhof’s Team X developed the winning solution of the latter category: Hear-X.
“It’s an application to perform hearing tests, for healthcare workers to use in rural India,” Neuhof explained to The Jerusalem Post, emphasizing that it functions offline, overcoming the issue of lack of Internet access in rural India.
“We tried to make it more affordable and easy to calibrate,” he says, adding that all that is needed is the app, a headset of any kind and a healthcare worker to operate it.
A special “Israeli Favorite Prize” awarded by sponsor eHealth Ventures incubator went to Team A, which developed a solution for drug adherence.
“It’s frugal and cost effective, said eHealth Ventures VP Ophir Shahaf, praising it as “super impressive.” The design is a smart pillbox; when a pill is removed from the pillbox, it breaks the circuit, and thus creates an alert that the pill has been taken.
Sanjali Murani of Chennai, a summer student at TAU, helped design a non-invasive hemogram to test for anemia – a device that can draw blood without pricking the patient’s finger. She initially had only planned to volunteer at the hackathon at Tel Aviv’s Google Campus, but caught up in the enthusiasm of the participants, she and her friends decided to sign up, too.
“We made one of the best decisions ever,” she tells the Post. “We not only learned, but we met new people, made friends and networked. It was a weekend well spent, an amazing experience,” she enthuses.
“We all know Israel is the startup nation, and in India we don’t have the technology to take our ideas forward,” she continues. “In India people are still apprehensive about going to Israel, so this initiative is breaking this taboo. I never thought I would be in Israel doing something that would help India.”
Seemant Jauhari, the CEO for Research and Innovation of India’s largest private hospital chain, Apollo Hospitals, visited Israel to attend the hackathon. He reviewed the efforts of the 1,000 Israeli and Indian participants and in his keynote speech at Sunday evening’s prize ceremony at Tel Aviv University, he said the two countries have “a unique combination.”
“Israel has the lead and experience in terms of getting out these startups and being successful in getting innovation out. We are still a budding system. So the hackathon brings these together, the needs and the solutions,” he said, stressing the enormity of India’s healthcare needs. “India does have a lot of intellectual property, and Israel can help unlock it.”
This is exactly what the Pears Program seeks to do in India and other developing countries around the world: “to harness the power of Israel innovation” to address developing world challenges.
“Israel is one of the best countries in the world in solving rich people’s problems, but we do little to help poor people’s problems,” Inbal tells the Post, explaining that she founded the Pears Program in a bid to change that.
“Technology is a game changer in this. The idea behind the program is to enhance Israel’s contribution to development using what we do best – technology and innovation.”
This is Inbal’s personal vision, the inspiration for her aliya from Canada, and the driving force behind everything the program does. “We work to support other people doing good work.”
Pears is a partner of Olam, an organization promoting global Jewish service and international development, made up of 44 partner organizations from Israel and the Jewish world. The latter, which last year held the first-ever conference of international Jewish and Israeli organizations involved in global aid and development, connected the Pears Program to one of the participating organizations, Gabriel Project Mumbai, a Jewish volunteer- based initiative caring for vulnerable children living of India.
The Pears Program is funded by the Pears Foundation, a British family foundation rooted in Jewish values whose work is concerned with positive identity and citizenship.