Supporting Healthcare Innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean

The countries that make up Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are as diverse, colorful and multi-cultural as one would expect.

The amazing ability of Cuban universities to produce world-class physicians and medical researchers juxtaposed with the underwhelming healthcare options in Bolivia and Guyana (amongst other nations) provide ample evidence of the wide spectrum of healthcare options and innovation in the region.

However, there are several fundamental reasons to be hopeful.

Rays of Sunshine

For the most past, healthcare is considered a basic human right and is supplied free or at a greatly subsidized cost by most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Anybody can get basic healthcare anywhere and probably not end up in the poor house.

Full Disclosure: Healthcare will still probably be very basic in some poor and sparsely populated areas. It may also probably come with the waiting lag, bureaucracy and lack of choice that many public health systems are known for.

Secondly, health informatics has developed into one of the hottest fields, over the last decade, with the LAC having a fair share of local and originating experts.

Marry these factors with the rapid change in the healthcare landscape, the recognition by governments, corporations, funders and academic institutions of the need to innovate, the increased demand on the healthcare system as populations age, and the fact that chronic diseases are becoming commonplace in the region and you get a very clear indication of the opportunity and challenge that is before us.

Changing Winds

In 2013, Dr Patricia Ordóñez, from the University of Puerto Rico, sought to mobilize the region and community in “crossing bridges and borders to identify healthcare issues in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

Dr Ordóñez organized the first Symposium of Health Informatics in Latin America and the Caribbean (SHILAC 2013) in Cancun, Mexico on August 14, 2013 as a part of the eleventh Latin America and Caribbean Conference for Engineering and Technology (LACCEI 2013).

SHILAC’s three (3) primary objectives were:

  1. To showcase health informatics in Latin America and the Caribbean,
  2. To identify the top health issues in LAC that could best be addressed with health informatics, and
  3. To brainstorm and prioritize possible health informatics solutions to those issues.

For SHILAC 2013, a full and exciting roster of academics from all over the region came to Cancun to present their work, form collaborations and participate in a Big Think session, led by SecondMuse.

Building on the success and momentum of SHILAC 2013, Dr Ordóñez and her team is holding the second Symposium of Health Informatics in Latin America and the Caribbean (SHILAC 2015) in San Juan, Puerto Rico from November 20–22, 2015.

The theme for SHILAC 2015 is “Spurring Innovation in Healthcare in Latin America and the Caribbean.” This year’s event has added a fourth objective — to begin to implement health informatics solutions for top health issues.

This objective means that SHILAC 2015 will officially include a hackathon called Hacking Medicine in the Caribbean to the roster.

The hope is that this hackathon will yield powerful prototypes for pressing healthcare problems faced by people in Latin America and the Caribbean and will be the start of sustainable businesses that focus on regional health issues that have global impact.

Take Action

Apart from attending SHILAC (like I will be), there are multiple ways that you can help with this great cause:

  1. Submit a paper or an abstract to the conference.
  2. Be a sponsor for the event.
  3. Come hack on healthcare solutions for Latin America and the Caribbean.
  4. As a student, healthcare government official or passionate healthcare researcher or practitioner, register to attend and network with your colleagues from around the world.
  5. Come to Puerto Rico, partake of the salsa lessons and beach volleyball and cheer on the hackathon participants. (agenda here)(reserve room here)(attend here)
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