IIT Madras Develops Virtual Reality Tools to combat Maternal and Newborn deaths in partnership with National Health Mission
CHENNAI : Indian Institute of Technology Madras Researchers are working with National Health Mission of Tamil Nadu to improve newborn and maternal health. Neonatal Health and Maternal health are crucial to increasing equity and reducing poverty in any country, which leads to solving large broader, economic, social and developmental challenges.
An IIT Madras team at the Centre of Excellence on Virtual Reality (VR) and Haptics, called Experiential Technology Innovation Center (XTIC), identified that skill training of the health workers was a major challenge that India was facing, specifically at the primary health centres in rural settings.
Dr. Darez Ahamed IAS, Mission Director, National Heath Mission Tamil Nadu, released the ‘SmartNRP project’ IIT Madras on 19th April 2022 for rural healthcare workers to reduce Maternal Mortality Rate (NMR) in India in the presence of Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, Prof. Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean (Alumni and Corporate Relations), IIT Madras, Prof. M. Manivannan head of XTIC, Dr. J. Kumudha, expert Neonatologist and other stakeholders.
Neonatal Resuscitation Protocol (NRP) is the global standard in first aid technique for newborn babies that are not breathing/crying.
Using VR, Gaming Technologies, cloud, and AI/ML, the SmartNRP tool will be used for training the PHC health workers in Tamil Nadu under National Health Mission (NHM) to take the technologies forward. This will be scaled subsequently to other states in India where NMR is very high.
Further, Dr. Darez Ahamed also released the ‘SmartFHR project’ to reducing Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), it is aimed at monitoring foetal health using smartphones anywhere and anytime without clinical assistants. This project also will be scaled subsequently to other states where MMR is very high.
Addressing the event after releasing these tools, Dr. Darez Ahamed IAS, Mission Director, National Health Mission Tamil Nadu, said, “If you look at Infant Mortality, the biggest contributor is Neonatal Mortality Rate (NMR) which is death within 28 days of birth. Around 40 babies are lost per every 1,000 births. We want to bring this down to single digits and all these initiatives are towards this direction. We assure that these tools will now be provided to the healthcare workers in delivery points and we will also have special training points.”
Further, Dr. Darez Ahamed said, “IIT Madras should also develop tools to train healthcare workers on various other areas such as treating accident victims, among numerous others. These tools proves that there are numerous other areas that VR can be utilized. Tamil Nadu will use these tools to improve Newborn healths.”
These projects are supported by CSR initiatives, funded by IndiaIdeas.com Limited (‘BillDesk ‘). This support was crucial in developing these societal healthcare projects with a positive grassroots impacts.
Speaking on the occasion, Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, said, “We need to bring in technology that will be accessible to rural India and this technology in a step in that direction. This was one of the key learnings from COVID-19 Pandemic. I am sure Virtual Reality will make impact not only in healthcare verticals but in other areas as well. There are lots of very interesting ideas from IIT Madras Research Scholars and students. The Institute has a process by which an idea can be converted into a product and benefit the society at large.”
Thanking Billdesk, the CSR partner of this project, Prof. Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean (Alumni and Corporate Relations), IIT Madras, said, “This is a classic case of how CSR should function. We are not buying todays solutions but developing tomorrow’s training simulators. IIT Madras has been at the forefront of developing solutions in labs that Industry can commercialize and society can benefit from.”
Prof. M. Manivannan, Biomedical Engineering Group, Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, who is also heading the XTIC, elaborated on how these projects would benefit the healthcare workers, “XTIC is in line with the vision and mission of the institute to develop more such tools in the future towards the wellbeing of society, specifically rural India, using advanced technologies.”
According to the IIT Madras Research Team, most technologies utilized for skill training in healthcare were currently imported and did not address the unique challenges of India’s skill training – scalability, limited resources, and dense population in rural settings.
The XTIC team utilized state-of-the-art technologies such as Virtual Reality, 5G, Robotics, AI/ML to address the big gap that India faces in Skills Training. Their start-up ‘Merkel Haptics’ launched a unique ‘In-Vitro Fertilisation Training Simulator,’ which was released earlier to the global market.