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NEW DELHI: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, have developed virtual reality (VR) tools to improve newborn and maternal health and combat mortality rate. The researchers are working with the Tamil Nadu health department, National Health Mission Tamil Nadu, to train health workers to take the technology forward.

According to the researchers, VR, gaming technologies, cloud, and artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) will be used to train PHC health workers. This will be scaled subsequently to other states in India where neonatal mortality rate (NMR) is very high.

On 19 April, Dr. Darez Ahamed, mission director, National Health Mission, Tamil Nadu, released the ‘SmartNRP project’ that aims to strengthen rural healthcare workers to reduce NMR. Neonatal resuscitation protocol is the global standard in first-aid technique for newborn babies that are not breathing or crying.

IIT Madras's research team’s Experiential Technology Innovation Centre (XTIC) which leverages emerging technologies such as virtual reality, 5G, robotics, AI/ML, identified that skill training of the health workers was a major challenge India is facing, specifically at the primary health centres in rural settings.

“Most technologies utilised 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 researchers said.

Their start-up ‘Merkel Haptics’ launched a unique ‘In-Vitro Fertilisation Training Simulator,’ which was released earlier to the global market.

Prof. M. Manivannan, head of XTIC, said these projects would benefit 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."

Dr. Ahamed emphasised that 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.

“If you look at infant mortality, the biggest contributor is 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 you that these tools will now be provided to the healthcare workers in delivery points and we will also have special training points," he said.

“IIT Madras should also develop tools to train healthcare workers in various other areas such as treating accident victims, among numerous others. There are numerous other areas in that VR can be utilised. Tamil Nadu will use these tools to improve Newborn health," added Dr. Ahamed.

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