Global Health Case Challenge: fighting antibiotic resistance

Martin B. Justesen

WHO/Europe provided the case for this year’s Global Health Case Challenge, an annual event hosted by the University of Copenhagen’s School of Global Health, EIT Health and SUND Innovation Hub. The case asked students to consider the following question: How can availability, uptake and usage of rapid diagnostic tools such as point-of-care tests be improved to facilitate responsible use of antibiotics in primary care?

159 students (34 teams) applied to take part in the Case Challenge. The 73 students (15 teams) ultimately selected for participation came from 26 different countries and together represented 28 different programmes at top universities across Europe.

The winning team presented the web app “Acumulus”, an artificial intelligence computing service designed to compare symptoms with so-called big data, such as epidemiological and clinical data. The team consisted of students from the University of Copenhagen (Johan Bundgaard, Mark Khurana and Troels Rømer), Copenhagen Business School (Kasper Djernæs) and the Technical University of Denmark/University of Copenhagen (Jakob Simonsen).

Winning teams visit WHO/Europe in UN City, Copenhagen

On 12 December 2016, the winning team visited UN City to present their ideas to WHO experts on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). They were joined by the third-place team, which presented the “Bacteria Bubble”, a small exhibition using virtual reality to teach the general public and at-risk groups about AMR and point-of-care tests.

The 2 teams have begun the process of prototyping their ideas, and the meeting with WHO experts provided an opportunity to discuss the feasibility and implementation of the innovations. Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong, Programme Manager of AMR at WHO/Europe, participated in the meeting together with colleagues. “I'm very happy to have had the chance to get involved in the Case Challenge this year and I would like to praise the students for their innovative and promising ideas, as well as the enthusiasm with which they took on the challenge,” he said. “It is well recognized that AMR is a complex issue that requires new thinking and a whole range of approaches if we want to preserve antimicrobials for future generations.”

During the meeting, WHO staff also had the chance to ask the winning team a few questions about their experiences during the Case Challenge. Below is an excerpt from their conversation.

How did you find the experience of participating in the Case Challenge?

"For us, the Case Challenge was an opportunity to tackle a crucial, real-world problem by combining our individual academic, personal and intellectual capabilities. Having to take on the problem in 24 hours and having some doors opened that will help us turn the idea into reality after the day has been a great catalyst for us.”

What do you think of the topic?

“The topic was the key reason we decided to participate in the Case Challenge. There is probably no topic more urgent, severe or crucial to modern medicine as AMR. Decades of progress in surgical care, cancer treatment and primary care will be reversed if we don’t come together and solve it.”

Did your understanding of AMR and the challenges around it change as a result of the Case Challenge?

“We have come to realize that there is no silver bullet that will solve AMR. We think our idea is part of a solution, but only a part. Policy-makers, the pharmaceutical industry, nongovernmental organizations, consumers, patients, parents and businesses must be involved in taking on the challenge.”

What will your intervention specifically do?

“Create a cloud-based computational system that enables doctors to better choose tests, increase the accuracy of these tests and eventually diagnose infectious disease – and thus decrease the misuse of antibiotics to treat, for example, viral infections.”

How are you planning to implement it in practice?

“First, we have to interview some primary care physicians about the design, integration and usefulness of the system. We are talking to both information technology experts and microbiologists about the feasibility of the solutions and the way to go from here.”

Did you benefit from the meeting with WHO experts?

“Indeed – especially regarding the usefulness of the system and special areas of concern when it comes to funding, implementation and policy issues. Furthermore, receiving encouraging criticism is crucial for motivation and progress. The broad perspective of the WHO experts is extremely valuable in the phase of the project that we are in now.”