UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


Workshop develops interdisciplinary approaches to frugal innovation and learnings from India

3 August 2018

This July we welcomed back our international collaborator Prof Prashant Jha, from the All India Medical Sciences Institute (AIIMS), to run a two-day workshop on frugal innovation at UCL.

Group shot frugal innovation workshop

Reversing the concept of frugal innovation

The simple and appealing concept of frugal innovation – that more can be done with less in a faster, cheaper and more efficient manner – is a necessity in the healthcare landscape of emerging economies like India as medical doctors and nurses have to deliver services where infrastructure is limited.

What is significant however, is that this low-cost constraint has not compromised the quality of the healthcare innovations coming out of India. Affordable, effective and accessible alternative solutions are being created for patients with regularity. This concept is so prominent in India’s outlook that they even have a Hindi word for it, jugaad, an improvised solution born out of ingenuity in adversity.

As the NHS faces its own resource constraints, the question of whether the UK should be looking to learn more from India’s expertise in affordable innovation has become particularly pertinent.


Changing mindsets and practices the 'frugal way' 

July’s workshop built on teachings from an earlier three-day workshop run by Prashant in 2017. Both workshops followed the same four-system process as the SIB's Fellowship programme: ‘Discover, Define, Design, Develop’, albeit in a shorter timeframe. The SIB programme is funded by the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology and is a joint collaboration between Stanford University, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-D).

The SIB programme is world-renowned for its phenomenal success in training the next generation of frugal health-tech leaders. It has produced innovations ranging from an affordable fetal monitoring device that aims to reduce stillbirths to a splint made of low-cost cardboard that allows the temporary protection of injured limbs. 

Our workshop’s emphasis was on replicating and nurturing this frugal mindset, which could subsequently influence workshop participants’ ongoing research and day-to-day work.



Frugal projects to solve unmet clinical needs

During the workshop, participants formed interdisciplinary working groups to tackle specific unmet clinical needs in Gastroenterology, Otorhinolaryngology, Maternal-Child Health and Endocrinology.

A fully-funded PhD studentship has been awarded to one of the projects that arose out of this process. The SepSence project aims to produce an early diagnostic and stratification kit for sepsis. Sepsis, an overwhelming response by the body to infection, is a life-threatening condition affecting 26 million people worldwide and killing 6 million per year. It is currently poorly diagnosed and treated, yet there is evidence that early diagnosis leads to improved outcomes – with an 8% increase in mortality for every hour of delaying antibiotics. The potential patient impact of an effective, affordable early diagnostic tool is therefore vast.


Moving forward

Thank you to Prashant and all participants who attended for such a rewarding and fruitful workshop. We will continue to update you with the progress our funded PhD studentship and the SepSence project. We were also incredibly impressed with the high standard of the rest of the projects and will be looking for ways to support them in their development too.

Prashant will be returning in October for a longer, week-long intensive workshop on frugal innovation in healthcare engineering. More details will be coming soon, but please save the dates Tuesday 2 October - 8 October 2018 and register your interest by signing up through our Eventbrite page