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London-based Oxford VR is partnering with insurance company AXA and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to roll out its mental health virtual reality (VR) treatment in Asia.

Dubbed the Yes I Can initiative, the Oxford University spinout’s treatment has been made free to the public and AXA’s corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services.

Yes I Can gradually and systematically exposes users to powerful simulations of everyday environments, such as a café, bus, street, doctor’s waiting room and store, where they are guided by a virtual coach through a series of tasks that trigger anxiety.

The Yes I Can initiative provides participants aged 18 or above with six to eight 30-minute VR sessions over a period of three to six weeks. The localised version in Asia will be offered in both English and Cantonese. The programme does not require a highly trained professional to operate the service.

The partnership between AXA Hong Kong, CUHK and Oxford VR also includes a clinical research study that involves the recruitment of more than 250 members of the public as participants.

Barnaby Perks, chief executive officer at Oxford VR, said “This is a solution whose time has come, and we are very excited to collaborate with AXA Hong Kong and CUHK to launch our VR treatment programme.”

“Technology holds the key to making high-quality mental health care more patient-centred and accessible. This strategic partnership with AXA HK and CUHK exemplifies our global leadership role in creating groundbreaking, clinically-validated, VR-enabled mental health solutions which have the capacity to bring unprecedented change to healthcare outcomes in the region.”

Gordon Watson, chief executive officer of AXA Asia, added: “Yes I Can is about changing the status quo by offering a highly innovative and high-quality mental health solution free to members of the public in need and to our corporate customers as part of their employee benefits services free access. We aim to change lives in Asia, with Hong Kong pioneering this initiative in breaking new ground.”

On the planned  clinical research study, professor Rocky Tuan, vice chancellor and president of CUHK, said: “CUHK is committed to translating our excellent academic research to address global challenges and benefit humanity.”

“Applying automation and VR technology to treatment can increase the accessibility of mental health services in a format that the public may find less stigmatising and much easier to embrace. By building up an evidence base of VR therapeutic experience in the Chinese context, we hope to expand the pioneering mental health services delivery modes in Hong Kong and Greater China.”

Dr Yi Mien Koh, managing director of health and employee benefits at AXA Hong Kong, reveals more about the “first of its kind” partnership between business, academia and immersive technology in Asia:

Image credit: Oxford VR