June 9, 2023

ACT Implementers Network: Bringing private innovations to public healthcare

In September 2022, ACT For Health conducted a Needs Assessment study with medical professionals to understand their perspective on the healthcare innovations landscape. This study helped us identify and understand the broad categories of challenges faced by healthcare providers and assess where technology-based innovation can potentially play a role in improving healthcare delivery systems. A key insight that emerged for us was that the most critical need is to strengthen primary care centres with high-quality screening and diagnostic facilities along and to build the capacity of general physicians. This is how the idea of the ACT Implementers Network was born.

With 13 partners on board – eGov Foundation, Transforming Rural India Foundation, CureBay, Last Mile Care, Ambuja Cement Foundation, Mahan Trust, iKure, Karuna Trust, Parinaam Foundation, Swasti, Dvara Health Finance, FPAI & Clinikk – the network aims to strengthen the healthcare ecosystem by matching the tech needs of such social enterprises working among underserved communities with ACT supported innovations and launching pilot projects to address identified need gaps. Such pilots are co-designed with our partners based on their needs and our goal is to demonstrate evidence-based deployment models which can be further contextualised by other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.

An example of such a pilot is the one we catalysed between ACT For Health grantee Medprime Technologies and Mahan Trust – an NGO that works in the remote Melghat district of rural Maharashtra and serves the tribal communities in the area. With 70% of the region’s mortality rate attributed to treatable infections, a key challenge that emerged was the lack of trained microscopy technicians who could enable timely diagnosis.

“Currently, local lab technicians can only prepare the sample slides, which have to be transported to a pathology lab 4 hours away in Amravati. In fact, even the onus of transporting the slides is on the patients themselves – which often results in them refusing to go because of the costs involved. Even if they do go, it takes 4-5 days for results to come in – which often delays timely diagnosis. So more often than not, patients are treated on the basis of their symptoms which may not be accurate,” says Dr. Ashish Satav, Founder – Mahan Trust.

The Mahan Trust team leveraged the ACT Implementers Network to collaborate with Medprime, who is piloting Cilika – a digital microscopy solution that allows pathologists to remotely analyse test reports for patients living in low-resourced areas without the hassle of transporting or storing the sample slides. Ever since the introduction of the Cilika device in February 2023, physical samples are no longer needed to be sent to Amravati and they are able to get 5 samples a day, which are diagnosed by the pathologist remotely from Amravati.

“Thanks to ACT providing Cilika to us free of cost, we’re able to diagnose many poor tribal patients who would otherwise have received empirical therapy. This will improve patient management and reduce morbidity and mortality. Its successful implementation in MAHAN Trust will also help develop replicable models in other tribal areas of India.” Dr. Ashish concludes.
A similar pilot that we are currently running is with the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), Bidar to establish their women’s cancer detection centre. ACT For Health matched their needs with Niramai and Periwinkle from its portfolio – Niramai’s affordable breast cancer screening device is portable, radiation free and non-invasive while Periwinkle’s AI-led Smartscope solution helps detect cervical cancer without the need for electricity and can be used by healthcare workers without extensive training.

Since the inauguration of the cancer detection centre in early May 2023, the FPAI team has been able to screen more than a hundred women for cervical cancer within their first month, and are slowly starting to screen for breast cancer as well.

As we explore more pilot engagements with other partners in our Implementers Network, an important learning for us has been the need to develop robust M&E frameworks and mechanisms to help measure the success of each such intervention. Simultaneously, we are also trying to engage with state governments to introduce such innovations in the public health system at scale.

Our hope is to create scalable models of interventions that use the power of technology and collaboration to improve health outcomes in our country.

If you’re a grassroots public healthcare organisation who could benefit from being a part of the ACT Implementers Network, download our Implementers Guide to know more.

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