A team of doctors based in Oxford and Kenya have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to further develop a smartphone game that provides vital emergency care training to African healthcare workers.

The team launched the OxReach crowdfunding appeal to raise £100,000 to develop the smartphone platform known as Life-saving Instruction for Emergencies (LIFE) over the next twelve months. The OxReach platform is provided through crowdfunding specialist Hubbub.

The scenario-based mobile gaming platform will teach healthcare workers to identify and manage medical emergencies, using game-like training techniques to reinforce the key steps that need to be performed in order for a healthcare worker to save the life of a new-born baby in distress.

The project aims to address the high number of infant deaths by using an interactive 3D simulation of an emergency scenario to give as many healthcare workers as possible the knowledge they need to provide life-saving treatment to new-born babies using a smartphone.

The team will also be exploring how a Virtual Reality version of the game will be able to offer even greater levels of realism with the new HTC Vive VR system. The LIFE platform could enable training to be delivered for emergencies affecting all ages.

“In Africa, the day a baby is born is also the day it faces the greatest risk of death. Over one million babies die in the first 28 days of life. WHO estimates that over two thirds of new-born deaths in Africa could be avoided by delivering essential interventions including emergency care effectively,” said Paediatrician and Professor at Oxford’s Department of Tropical Medicine, Mike English.

“With face-to-face training we have reached only a tiny proportion of the 2.5 million African healthcare workers. We need a system that enables everyone to access and learn the essential steps to save babies in an emergency. This is what we’re aiming to do with our LIFE platform,” continued English.

Already, over 5,000 healthcare workers and 2,000 medical students have been trained using the scenario-based teaching on which the game is based. The course, called ETAT+, is used across Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, and was recently introduced to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Myanmar.

By using the LIFE game, African healthcare workers in even the remotest settings will be trained so that their first instinct is to act correctly. The game will teach them the latest guidelines, and can also be linked to professional accreditation, with built-in reminders to stay up-to-date and refresh what has been learned.

“The LIFE project is both innovative and transformative. It shows the way we should think about and take advantage of the changing technological landscape in Africa,” said WHO’s Department of Maternal, New-born, Child and Adolescent Health, Dr Wilson Were.

The team is also being supported by Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s commercialisation arm, the University of Oxford Development Office, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Green Templeton College and by mobile and virtual reality innovator HTC, who will match the first £20,000 donated by the public.

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