First Oxford India Lecture to highlight role of ‘smart health’ in improving access to healthcare

15 September 2014

Mobile phones and smart devices will have a large role to play in improving access to healthcare and involving patients more in their own treatment, a leading Oxford University academic will say in a lecture in New Delhi.

Solving the large challenges facing healthcare systems around the world will require a huge shift in the way care for patients is provided, Professor Robyn Norton will say in the first Oxford India Lecture on Monday 15 September.

Professor Robyn Norton is Principal Director of The George Institute for Global Health and James Martin Professorial Fellow at the University of Oxford.

This is the first time the University of Oxford has organised such an event in India, and is only the second time it has done so outside the UK following last year’s Oxford China Lecture in Shanghai. The event reflects the strong ties the University has in India, particularly through world-class partnerships with many Indian research institutions.

Professor Norton’s lecture, ‘Mobilising healthcare: harnessing science, technology and entrepreneurship’, for an invited audience will be introduced by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton.

Professor Andrew Hamilton says: ‘We are delighted to be holding the first Oxford India Lecture in New Delhi. We want to celebrate the many links between Oxford and India that have existed for many years. Indeed, the large number of research partnerships that exist between Indian institutions and Oxford University is likely to surprise many people.

‘It is through top researchers working together across the world that we are most likely to gain insight and new knowledge in many of the challenges facing us in the 21st century. How best we deliver healthcare affordably to a global population facing increasing rates of common diseases like cancer, diabetes, dementia and heart disease is certainly one such challenge.’

Professor Norton believes that the transformative change needed in healthcare – the UK, in India and globally – will need to harness science, technology and entrepreneurship, and be based on the best medical evidence.

She will use her lecture to look at how technology, together with cutting edge research and expertise from business, can ensure that many more people can access decent healthcare in the years to come. She will give a number of examples of medical research taking place in India through Oxford-India research partnerships and through the work of the George Institute for Global Health.

‘Currently 5 of 7 billion people on the planet do not have access to safe, effective and affordable healthcare,’ says Professor Norton. ‘Transformative change is required if the healthcare needs of the world are to be met. Healthcare services must move away from their reliance on expensive hospital care to a greater focus on primary care and preventive health services. Patients and populations must also be more actively engaged in their healthcare, and mobile technologies will be part of the solution.’

In the UK, there is increasing demand for care but also increasing pressures on the NHS’s finances, coupled with a need to move away from hospitals to care provided in people’s homes and communities. In India, there is a great challenge for healthcare systems and infrastructure to achieve universal health coverage, reach large rural areas, and cater for the growing middle classes without the increase in health spend breaking the bank.

‘Both countries face a similar problem for different reasons,’ says Professor Norton. ‘They both need to move to affordable new systems capable of satisfying growing healthcare demands. This is where we see technology having a huge amount to offer.’

‘Mobile phone ownership in India means they have more reach than the health infrastructure,’ Professor Norton points out. ‘Even if individuals don’t have a phone, someone will have in any village.’

Digital and mobile phone technologies can help in diagnosing patients with disease or at high risk of disease, increase the role of healthcare workers other than doctors in clinical decision making, and enable patients to monitor their own condition or manage their own treatment.

One example is a ‘smart health’ project being trialled in India by The George Institute for Global Health, with the support of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Oxford University. Health workers in rural areas are being trained to use a smartphone programmed with custom-designed software, to help them identify and manage people with heart problems.

Evidence-based guidelines for heart disease have been incorporated to enable health workers to obtain the right information from patients about their symptoms, to then determine the condition an individual has, and then to assist them in determining the way treatment should be provided. The system also allows doctors centrally to monitor the decisions being made.

The research is showing that the lower-level health workers in the field are identifying health problems and recommending the best treatments equivalently to highly-trained doctors in more well-equipped clinics.

With there being many times fewer doctors per head of population in India than in the UK, approaches like this could make a significant difference in improving access to the best healthcare.

Professor Norton says: ‘Science has to underpin all of this. We need to know that health outcomes using new technologies are as good or better than what went before. We need to know how patients and doctors will use the technologies, and how new systems can be implemented.’

Professor Robyn Norton, Principal Director of The George Institute for Global Health and James Martin Professorial Fellow at the University of Oxford, will give the Oxford India Lecture at 18:30 on Monday 15 September 2014 at the Leela Palace Hotel in New Delhi.

For more information please contact the University of Oxford news & information office on +44 (0)1865 280530 or

Oxford and India

The University of Oxford’s longstanding connections with India date back to 1579, when Father Thomas Stephens from New College was the first recorded Englishman to visit India. Ties have strengthened through time, with the creation of the Boden Chair in Sanskrit in 1832 and the arrival of Oxford’s first Indian students in 1871. The Indian branch of Oxford University Press, established in 1912, has a proud tradition of publishing its own distinguished scholarly list.

Today, Oxford University is a thriving location for the study of India. We have started a new postgraduate degree in Modern South Asian Studies, including language studies, and the new MSc in Contemporary India welcomed its first intake of students in 2008. Elsewhere, Oxford scientists are connecting with their Indian counterparts through unique networks in physics, cancer research and other fields.

In addition to the growing number of students from India, 381 in 2013 (mostly postgraduates), there are nearly 100 academics from India working at Oxford and over 1,300 graduates of Oxford live in India today.

Oxford-India research partnerships

Improved prosthetics
The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc), working with the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford, has made a breakthrough with a new design for an affordable prosthetic hand. An international collaboration has been formed with the aim of developing this design and readying it for commercial manufacture. The IISc, with its expertise in affordable and appropriate design, will work together with biomechanics and clinical trials experts at the University of Oxford and with experts in commercialisation at both centres.

India-Oxford Cancer Research Network
The India-Oxford (INDOX) Cancer Research Network is a partnership between Oxford University and 12 leading cancer research centres in India, and has established itself as India’s leading academic oncology network. INDOX’s aim is to conduct high quality research that will help to reduce death and suffering from cancer in India. It is particularly interested in investigating the causes of cancer in Indian patients and how cancer can be prevented and treated cost-effectively in India. INDOX is currently conducting a series of case-control studies to investigate the risk factors for common cancers in the Indian population, and provides training and fellowships to Indian clinicians and scientists.

Young Lives
The Young Lives project is a long-term international study following and documenting the lives of 12,000 children over 15 years in 4 study countries (the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana in India alongside Ethiopia, Peru, and Vietnam) led by a team in the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford. In India, Young Lives works with the Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS) in Hyderabad, Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalam (Women’s University) (SPMVV) in Tirupati and Save the Children-India.

Oxford India Network in Theoretical Physics
What started as individual research links has developed into an Oxford-India network in theoretical physics that includes, among others, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. Some members of the network participate in another project to shoot neutrinos from Oxford to India (7000km) in order to study them (from the UK Neutrino Factory in Oxfordshire to the India-based Neutrino Observatory) – 7000km being the ‘magic baseline’ for the study of the quantum mechanical ‘oscillations’ of neutrinos from one kind to another.

Notes to Editors:

  • Robyn Norton is the co-founder and Principal Director of The George Institute for Global Health, a not-for-profit medical research institute which aims to facilitate the provision of safe, effective and affordable healthcare, especially for disadvantaged populations worldwide. She is Professor of Global Health and James Martin Professorial Fellow at the University of Oxford, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney and Honorary Professor at Peking University Health Science Center.
    Robyn is internationally regarded for her research on the causes, prevention and management of injuries. Her specific research interests have focused on the causes and prevention of road traffic injuries, the prevention and management of falls and fall-related injuries, including hip fractures, as well as the management of critical conditions in the intensive care setting. Robyn was the Foundation Chair and is now Chair Emeritus of the Road Traffic Injuries Research Network, an initiative aimed at increasing research and research capacity to address the current and growing burden of road traffic injuries in low and middle-income countries.
  • The George Institute for Global Health has offices in the United Kingdom (Oxford), India (New Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore), Australia (Sydney) and China (Beijing and Hong Kong), and with over 450 staff worldwide conducts large-scale population health, clinical and health systems research, focused particularly on reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases and injuries.
  • Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK’s top-ranked medical school.
    From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.
    A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.