Caring about disability beyond borders
Helping to solve complex issues requires bold thinking, creativity and collaboration across international borders. For the University of Melbourne, partnering with researchers, government and industry to lead on challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region is central to its social purpose. In 2022, the University set its sights on addressing disability healthcare in India.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid expansion of telehealth protected many patients and provided continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of people in India. However, it often failed to include people with a disability.
VirtuCare is a research initiative that will develop a virtual model of care to address health and rehabilitation needs of people with disability in India.
Supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-India Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, VirtuCare was formally launched at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi during the University’s delegation to India in September.
Led by the University of Melbourne, the initiative has received in-kind support from partners including the Public Health Foundation of India, the George Institute India, University of Adelaide, Infosys, the Emmanuel Hospital Association, and eSanjeevani through the Government of India’s Centre for Development of Advanced Computing based in Mohali.
Professor Nathan Grills is the lead researcher on the project, working out of the Nossal Institute in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health and as the Senior Research Associate (Health) at the Australia India Institute.
“Applying what we’ve learned from the pandemic, VirtuCare will inform the co-design, piloting and evaluation of inclusive virtual healthcare and rehabilitation services,” Professor Grills said.
“VirtuCare is an example of how, through its international partnerships, the University can contribute to health outcomes on a global scale and lead on challenges facing our international neighbours and partners.”
As one of the first steps in the project, the VirtuCare partnership brought together more than 200 experts from across India and Australia at a symposium in Hyderabad to explore how virtual care can be developed and modified to increase access to healthcare for people with disability.
“Unless you actively think about and include people with disabilities and other people in the margins, telehealth might miss its tremendous potential to assist such groups,” said Professor Grills.
“And we don’t want to squander this opportunity.”
Professor Grills also brought his expertise and leadership to broader collaborations exploring the impact of technology on healthcare in India, including as a delegate at the high-level Australia India Leadership Dialogue, held in New Delhi in September.
The University’s Australia India Institute (AII) partnered with technology giant Atlassian to co-chair the dialogue, with AII CEO the Hon Lisa Singh joining Atlassian co-CEO and co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes to host 50 high-profile leaders from both countries, including ministers, business leaders and academics.
“Through actively building stronger relationships, engaging experts and thought leaders, the 2022 Australia India Leadership Dialogue acted as a gamechanger for the future Australia-India footprint,” Ms Singh said.
Ms Singh said projects and collaborations like Virtucare and the Australia India Leadership Dialogue are examples of how university and research collaborations can strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Australia and India have a long history of partnership and cooperation, and both countries have advanced research and development capabilities,” Ms Singh said.
“Connecting the unique expertise of both nations provides important opportunities to work together to address the complex challenges facing the Indo-Pacific and the world.”
Banner image: Australia India Institute CEO the Hon Lisa Singh (left) and University of Melbourne researcher Professor Nathan Grills at the Australia India Leadership Dialogue. Image: Jai Narula