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5 Healthcare Innovation Trends to Support Healthy Cities

Over the past two months, we reviewed 279 submissions to Solve’s Healthy Cities Challenge. These solutions came from 62 countries, with over half coming from Asia, Africa, or Latin America. They used a wide range of innovative technologies to address our Challenge question: how can urban residents design and live in environments that promote physical and mental health?

Our judges have finally narrowed the field to 16 finalists who will attend Solve Challenge Finals on September 22 in New York City to pitch their solutions. By the end of the day, our judges will select the 8 most promising teams to join our 2019 Solver Class.

Read on to learn about trends in this year’s submissions, and get to know some of our finalist solutions. Support your favorites by voting for them—this year, the Healthy Cities finalist with the most votes will win a $2,500 Community Award. And don’t forget to tune in on September 22 to hear the finalists pitch at Solve Challenge Finals.

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, which are engines for economic growth but can also expose residents to health hazards. As urbanization increases, residents face what the WHO calls a “triple threat:” infectious disease, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and violence and injuries. This year’s Challenge question focused on all three.

1. WASH to Prevent Infectious Disease

Our applicants clearly believe that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are key to healthy cities. 38 percent of solutions aim to solve infectious disease through WASH, and most of these solutions focused on providing clean water and ways to contain and remove sewage. 

This makes sense—poor sanitation can lead to the spread of diseases like cholera, typhoid, and more, and according to the WHO, it’s estimated to cause 432,000 diarrheal deaths each year. Though sanitation coverage in urban areas has increased in the past ten years, rapid urbanization has meant that a greater number of people lack sanitation facilities than before.

Some of our finalist solutions focus on providing clean drinking water, others address water pollution and disease detection in water sources, while others aim to provide safe and sustainable toilets.

2. Addressing Broad Risk Factors of NCDs 

Unlike the infectious disease solutions, the solutions focused on NCDs addressed a wide range of risk factors and their causes, underscoring the myriad determinants of these types of ailments.

Living in urban areas can cause or worsen NCDs: air pollution is linked to heart and lung diseases, and lack of access to nutritious food and green space contribute to obesity and diabetes. 

The WHO estimates that 1.3 million people die every year from outdoor air pollution in cities, and as of 2016, 91 percent of the world’s population was living in places where the WHO’s air quality guidelines were not met. Meanwhile, behaviors like eating unhealthy food and a lack of exercise contribute to higher blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes, and obesity. 

Solutions focused on NCDs were correspondingly wide-ranging, from preventing and treating diabetes-related blindness, to better nutrition and reducing air pollution. One finalist focuses on diabetic retinopathy, a vision problem related to diabetes. Another addresses food access and healthy meal planning in urban food deserts, while another maps air quality and emissions sources in cities.

3. Community Engagement to Reduce Urban Violence 

Violence, transportation incidents, and overcrowding are major risks to physical safety and mental health. Among solutions that focused on reducing violence and urban blight, we found that a popular approach was to engage the community in reporting and problem-solving.

One solution enables anonymous reporting of violence warning signs by community members, particularly students, and automatically routes concerns to officials that can help assess and mitigate risks. In a similar vein, another uses community reports of neighborhood conditions combined with urban imagery and violence data to map out areas most susceptible to gun violence, which are then prioritized for community revitalization projects.

Beyond solutions to the WHO’s “triple threat,” we also saw two encouraging trends across all sorts of Healthy Cities submissions.

4. Ensuring Equitable Access to Care

Over half of all Healthy Cities solutions focused on ensuring equitable access to care—especially for vulnerable populations. 

Urban health risks often disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable, from minorities and migrants to women and children. Easy and equitable access to preventative care, diagnosis, and treatment is vital to mitigate health risks to these groups. 

To accomplish this, solutions must take into account a multitude of factors, from the stigma associated with seeking care to the logistical difficulties of getting to a care facility. This explains why 53 percent of submitted solutions focused on this dimension, and 44 percent of our finalists focus on it. 

5. Leveraging Large Datasets to Solve Problems

Many submitted solutions—and nearly half of our finalists—collect and leverage large datasets to solve problems, and perhaps most importantly, they share observed trends with other problem-solvers.

This is exciting for many reasons: these solutions are relying on community input to more effectively solve problems, building solutions that can more easily and cheaply scale, and building resources that others can use as the basis for additional solutions.

Some solutions collect data from users to focus and prioritize community projects, like to identify which neighborhoods are most in need of revitalization. One leverages AI systems to provide reproductive health advice to girls in Pakistan, while another leverages AI systems to provide scalable healthcare to pregnant women in India. Other solutions use their data to identify broader trends, such as identifying pollution hotspots or mapping mental health trends.

If these trends pique your interest, learn about all 16 Healthy Cities finalist solutions, vote for your favorites, and don’t forget to tune in on September 22 to hear them pitch live at Solve Challenge Finals


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Solve Challenge Finals 2019

Apella | New York City

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