AAATE Conference Summary

Themes: AT2030, Assistive Technology

The Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe held its annual conference, this year with a focus on Global Challenges in Assistive Technology, in Bologna (Italy) between the 27th and the 30th of August. Researchers from GDI Hub and partner organizations including the Clinton Health Access Initiative and ATscale organised a special session focused on sharing the work carried out so far as part of the AT2030 programme. The session was held on Friday the 30th of August and featured five presentations based on the abstract previously submitted by the authors. Here is a brief summary of the work presented at the conference:

  • Innovate Now: Creating an Assistive Technology Innovation Ecosystem in Nairobi: Although AT innovation could represent a lucrative opportunity for many tech entrepreneurs, only a few start-ups focus their efforts in the area. This is partially due to a lack of awareness, but it is also linked to the difficulty of bringing products to market in a field where ideas need to be tested with hard-to-reach populations and complex regulatory systems need to be navigated. According to the needs identified through a series of collaborative investigations with stakeholders we developed Innovate Now a Kenyan based ecosystem with the aim to support local and global entrepreneurs in bringing their new ATs to market. At the core of the ecosystem is a network of partnerships involving government, private businesses, NGOs and academic institutions where each partner has a specific role and provides contextual support and expertise to new start-ups who have developed innovative ATs.
  • Increasing access to assistive technology by addressing the market barriers: A market shaping approach for wheelchairs: Market barriers limit both supply and demand of appropriate wheelchiars in low-and middle income countries. Market shaping aims to break the vicious cycle of low supply, low private investment, limited competition, and high prices that perpetuates low demand. To develop a robust understanding of the market landscape and identify opportunities to increase access to appropriate wheelchairs the authors presented a solid approach that features both review of the literature and consultations with stakeholders. The process led to recommendations on marketing shaping interventions to increase access to wheelchairs. Incorporating proven models for provision in the health sector in line with WHO Guidelines may stimulate appropriate provision and increase predictable demand. Pooling resources though innovative financing, such as co-financing, may decrease fragmentation of resources available and catalyse demand.
  • AT2030 – exploring novel approaches to addressing the global need for AT: It is well known that the provision of assistive technology (AT) is a ‘wicked ‘problem and one that requires new thinking to solve. AT2030 is a programme of investment which is part of a new global movement, to find new cross-sectoral approaches to AT provision and use. AT2030 was designed based on a scoping study into the barriers affecting AT provision. This challenge represents a complex web of market and systematic market failure, compounded by a lack of participation from the communities that have the best knowledge of the issues (users themselves). This results in a mismatch between supply and demand which affects almost a billion people. This makes AT access one of the most pressing problems facing the global health sector.
  • Moulding a New Prosthetic Service Delivery System with the Amparo Confidence Socket: Without an appropriate prosthesis, amputees often remain dependant on family and community and are unable to access basic rights such as food, shelter, education and work. One of the main factors responsible for the difficulty of providing appropriate lower limb prosthetics is the difficulty related to the fabrication of the prosthetic socket (the part that connects to the residual limb of the individual). This component needs to be made specifically for the person and requires many hours of work from qualified technicians and the ability to access complex machinery. Amparo Gmbh has developed a new thermoplastic pre-assembled socket that can be molded directly on the residual limb of the amputee, thus drastically reducing the time, tools and expertise needed to manufacture lower limb prosthesis. This technology has shown promising results during a trial with 3 local technicians and 40 amputees in Kenya.
  • ATscale—meeting the global need for AT through an innovative cross-sector partnership: Despite evidence and consensus around the huge unmet need for AT globally, research shows a wide range of systemic, underlying environmental challenges and cross-cutting factors contributing to the challenge in matching appropriate supply and demand for AT. Building an enabling environment must include galvanising political will, mobilising resources, increasing awareness, addressing policy, and strengthening systems and service delivery. Accomplishing this requires a cross-sector partnership acting as a catalyst for change, amplifying existing work, and coordinating and mobilising global stakeholders. In July 2018, this vision was realised with the launch of ATscale, the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology, at the Global Disability Summit. This Partnership will enable partners working in distinct sectors to collaborate with a unified mission, facilitating complementary approaches, innovation, and capacity building.

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