Plan to slash heart disease in slums wins shot at $1m Hult Prize

A plan to tackle hypertension among slum-dwellers wins regional finals for the $1m Hult Prize

A plan to tackle hypertension among slum-dwellers by capitalising on existing healthcare networks used to treat HIV/AIDS last night took first prize at the regional finals for the $1m Hult Prize in Dubai.

The scheme to offer door-to-door screening, low-cost medication and awareness campaigns in poverty-stricken communities by adapting tried-and-tested routes of diagnosis and treatment beat 43 rival business plans to win over the judging panel.

The model is designed to launch in Africa before rolling out in urban slums globally, and puts the cost of diagnosis and treatment at just $0.62 per person, per capita.

The team, comprised of students from Esade Business School in Barcelona, Spain, will now compete in September against five other finalists for a chance to scoop $1m in start-up capital and launch their social enterprise.

“We looked at HIV interventions, and saw that they have built an incredible global network of local intervention points and community health workers. We want to leverage on these.. [to] also sell an intervention for hypertension,” Bijan Mashagh, one of the five-strong winning team, told Philanthropy Age.

“Hypertension is the main cause of cardiovascular diseases. So we thought; let’s piggyback on the HIV intervention points and infrastructure, and impose on them cardiovascular disease and hypertension diagnosis, awareness, and treatment."

“They were the most market-ready of the teams,” said Ahmad Ashkar, founder and CEO of the Hult Prize. “They put together a lot of elements about scaling and distribution, by tagging on to an existing infrastructure. If I gave them $1m tomorrow, they have a plan, a cause of action and a good base to develop from.”

The Esade team was selected from a pool of 43 competitors by a panel of judges that included Tariq Al Gurg, the CEO of UAE-based foundation Dubai Cares.

Their plan to use existing infrastructure was one of the key factors we liked, as it would keep costs down and meant the model could be scaled up,” said Al Gurg. “We felt it would work in a number of countries.”

The Hult Prize was founded in 2009 as a competition dedicated to using social enterprises as a means to solve the world’s biggest problems. University teams from around the world pitch ideas for sustainable start-ups for a chance to win $1m in seed funding and mentorship from Hult International Business School and its partners.

Over the past five years, the number of applicants has grown to more than 10,000 from 1,000, attracting students from more than 100 countries. This has included a surge in the number of teams from the Arab world, Ashkar said.

"Five years ago, we had zero Arab schools, four years ago we had one,” he said. “Now more than 50 per cent of the teams here [at the regional finals] are represented by people of Middle Eastern origin.”

The pool included nine UAE teams, the first team fielded from Kabul Medical University in Afghanistan, and groups from Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.

The 2014 Hult Prize finals will take place in September in New York, hosted by former US President Bill Clinton during the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting.

The Esade team was responding to a challenge set by Mr Clinton in 2013 to come up with solutions to slash the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDS) such as heart disease, stroke and cancer in urban slums.

The proposed models had to reach 25 million people by 2019, in a bid to tackle the 63 per cent of deaths worldwide due to NCDs. Some 1 billion people worldwide – or 14 per cent of the population – live in slums.

The winners of the 2013 challenge, a group of MBA students from Canada’s McGill business school, created a plan to popularise insect-farming in the slums of Africa and Asia to address hunger in poor communities.

The Aspire model capitalised on the fact that a billion people worldwide already eat high-protein grubs and grasshoppers as part of their daily diet.