Urban health challenges took center stage on the eve of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum as problem solvers from around the globe joined forces at ITU for the WSIS Hack for Health — a global competition for technical solutions to urban health challenges.
Teams at the global hackathon were given just over 24 hours to propose a working prototype to address health challenges posed by increasing urbanization, including: clean water; pollution (noise, light or environmental); non-communicable diseases (NCDs); as well as unhealthy behaviour.
Project pitches at WSIS Hack for Health covered a range of proposals for digital health including a real-time emissions map to monitor CO2 in cities, a community-based nutrition platform and a big data project to track non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Listen to ITU’s Podcast from WSIS Hack for Heath here.
The winning teams included a team from Poland that proposed a mobile application for patients to get personalized health advice. The top prize, however, was awarded to a team from the University of Applied Science Oslo, who developed an idea for a digital storytelling platform to revolutionize how parents and children engage with health information.
Brahima Sanou, the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, and Karen Bartleson, the President of IEEE, awarded Hackathon prizes, including cash awards of USD 1000 for the top two proposals to further develop their solution.
Teams presented their solutions to a panel of judges comprised of representatives from ITU and IEEE in collaboration with WHO. What emerged from the hackathon was a wide variety of ideas from around the world to address the specific challenges of urban health, and the hackathon attempted to scale up localized solutions to global problems.
One element that stood out from the global hackathon was the diversity of the teams. Regional distribution and gender balance among participants was important to organizers as nearly half of all participants were women (with a total of 17 women and 25 men) and teams from all regions of globe were represented at the hackathon.
“These issues that we are all facing are on a global scale, so having representatives from around the world is very important to us…” — Karen McCabe, IEEE.
“These issues are local, and we need to look at them locally, but they are also global. And a solution and an issue that might be addressed in one part of the world, can be applied or can be a foundation or can be inspiring to another part of the world,” said Karen McCabe, Senior Diretor at IEEE.
“So bringing a diverse group of people from around the world, from different countries with their own specific challenges can help inform each other and they can collaborate and coordinate those activities, so having that cultural diversity is very important as well as geographic diversity,” McCabe explained.
The specific challenge that was issued at WSIS Hack for Health is ever-pertinent considering that in cities around the world, urbanization is accelerating the number of people exposed to common risk factors for NCDs — such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use, air pollution, physical waste, and alcohol abuse — as well as by placing greater demand on health systems that are already stretched thin.
This hackathon promoted collaborative and creative thinking, and spurred innovative solutions that could potentially change millions of lives.
The future of health depends on innovation, and this hackathon brought together diverse perspectives to create, invent and change the world with innovative solutions for healthcare.
By: Theadora Mills, ITU News