The latest Community and Health Research Unit (CaHRU)/Lincoln Institute for Health (LIH) Improvement Science and Research Methods seminar was given on April 24th 2018 by Dr Matthew Harris, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Public Health, jointly appointed between the Department of Primary Care and Public Health, and the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London. He is also an Honorary Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Dr Harris worked for several years as a primary care physician in Brazil, as a WHO Polio Consultant in Ethiopia, as an HIV Technical Consultant in Mozambique and as a Global Health Advisor to the UK Department of Health. In 2014 he was awarded a prestigious Harkness Fellowship from the US Commonwealth Fund where he was a Visiting Research Assistant Professor at New York University, exploring cognitive biases in evidence interpretation in the context of Reverse Innovation.
He explained the concept of frugal innovations, usually low cost, often repurposed technologies, developed for resource-poor settings such as developing country health systems but increasingly relevant in the context of worsening resource constraints in Western health settings. The concept of frugal innovations is becoming important in the UK, where there is an imperative to identify those innovations that may perform equally but at lower cost. Bringing these frugal innovations from low-income countries into the NHS (so-called ‘reverse innovation’) is an emerging field in which Dr Harris is an acknowledged expert.
In his excellent and thoughtful seminar, Dr Harris discussed examples of frugal innovations such as a low cost portable ECG machine or cataract surgery delivered on a large scale in India, a new orthopaedic drill cover created in Africa, and a community health worker programme in Brazil. He also explored the challenges and barriers to identifying, adapting and adopting frugal innovations, touching on a diversity of literatures including diffusion of innovation, cognitive psychology and post-colonialism.
Prof Niro Siriwardena