Earlier this year Lifebox-Medsin Rep, Muhesh Taheem organised a Hackathon as part of the Imperial College London – Surgical Innovation Conference. This event was aimed at engaging young minds in the fast growing and ever changing global surgery field.
Kunal Bhanot, a 5th year medical student at Imperial was on the judging panel tasked with selecting the most innovative solution to achieving surgical sterility in low and middle income countries, he shares his experience below.
On 15th January 2017, Imperial College London hosted the 2017 Surgical Innovation Conference. At the heart of it was the Global Surgery Hackathon. The event invited both sixth form and undergraduate students to design a device that could effectively sterilise surgical instruments in a low resource setting, namely Sub-Saharan Africa.
Since there is only one surgeon available for every 2.1 million people in rural Africa, surgery is hugely inaccessible. To compound this problem further, the availability of surgical instruments is poor due to a lack of resources. Expensive autoclaves are simply unfeasible and a lack of continuous electricity makes it difficult for such machines to run reliably. We therefore asked students to make sure their device was cheap, had a low energy demand and could be sustainable.
Participants were allowed to be as creative as they wanted to in their design plans, but only had an hour to come up with a product to pitch to a panel of judges. As well as assessing how practical and innovative the device was, judges were asked to score groups on how well they could market the product. The pressure was on, but it was great to see how well these young minds collaborated in order to come up with some wonderful ideas. Whilst peering over tables during intense bouts of discussions, ideas ranging from ‘enzyme digestion units’ to ‘drone operated sterilisation bases’ were overheard. Creativity was rife amongst groups, but it was down to the students to convince the judges on feasibility of their designs.
An hour passed faster than the participants could possibly fathom and it came down to the judges to score them on how well the device could work in real life. The judging panel consisted of professionals from both medical and engineering backgrounds. Dr Dillan Fernando, a senior house officer in neurosurgery, was particularly bullish in probing people on financial affairs whereas Esuabom Dijemeni used his bioengineering background to focus on the technicalities of the sterilisation process. The students coped well in the heat of some intense questioning, but clearly proved that an hour can go a long way when brainstorming harmoniously.
The winner had been decided after some gruelling deliberation from the judges. ‘Steroil’, as they had cunningly named themselves, triumphed in the Global Surgery Hackathon with their innovative and cost effective sterilisation process using crude oil. A relatively simple contraption, comprising an oil chamber which itself contained another vacuumed metal cavity for placing foil wrapped instruments. Their device also capitalised on the fact that oil could be sourced locally, making it a sustainable proposition. An excellent marketing strategy by virtue of some crisp illustration naturally helped them all the way to the prize. The award was presented at the end of the day by Mr Shafi Ahmed, himself a leading pioneer in transmitting surgical education worldwide through virtual reality.
The youthful collaboration of minds at the Global Surgery Hackathon was no doubt an encouraging step towards combating low standards of surgery in low income countries. Access to safe surgery is a right – we are fortunate enough to receive this in the UK but millions still suffer across the globe. Hopefully this event will continue to spark discussion in a field that can significantly reduce the number of preventable deaths across the globe.