Irish-led project awarded €1.4m to tackle rural health inequality

26 Jun 2024

From left: Wisar Lab principal investigator Dr Karla Muñoz Esquivel and director Dr Nick Timmons. Image: ATU

ATU’s Wisar Lab is leading the Tech2Heal project, which aims to help rural communities live healthier and longer by finding positive changes to work and health policies.

A project led by researchers at Atlantic Technological University (ATU) Donegal has been awarded €1.4m to boost the health of rural communities.

The researchers at ATU’s Wisar Lab are leading a project called Tech2Heal, which will examine the work-life balance of rural communities and find ways to address health inequalities and improve patient outcomes.

Access to healthcare services is important for any community, but the ATU researchers said rural patients can face significant barriers to timely medical care, which can lead to poor outcomes, employees taking more time off and push some people into early retirement.

The main objective of the Tech2Heal project is to help employees and self-employed individuals in rural communities live healthier and longer, by finding positive changes to work and health policies. The project stakeholders include reindeer herders, fishermen, farmers and healthcare workers who face various working and environmental challenges.

“Rural communities frequently face many difficulties in accessing the healthcare they require, such as lengthy travel times to facilities and physicians,” said Wisar Lab principal investigator Dr Karla Muñoz Esquivel. “Such obstacles can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, ultimately forcing many people out of the workforce prematurely.

“Through Tech2Heal we can help equip remote populations with the digital tools to improve their health and wellbeing to live and work for longer, helping to build their sense of security and independence.”

The project is being conducted by a multidisciplinary team and includes participation from the University of Oulu in Finland, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Norwegian Centre for E-health Research and the Swedish Centre for Rural Medicine, in Region Västerbotten.

The funding came from the fourth call of the Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme. The Tech2Heal project will commence later this year and will run for 36 months. Wisar director Dr Nick Timmons said health monitoring has been a key research focus at the research lab for several years.

“Significant research gaps remain in our understanding of what healthcare is available in different areas, how patients are affected, and how services could better serve the health needs of rural and island areas,” Timmons said. “Projects like Tech2Heal have the potential to make a significant impact in addressing these healthcare inequalities and can play a vital part in our ongoing work in this field.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic