Young programmers in Bosnia hope they can help to relieve stress related illness at the same time as brightening their own prospects amid high national levels of unemployment.

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Tech-savvy programmers in Bosnia have developed an innovative piece of virtual reality software aimed at relieving stress.

The team of five at Mostar-based VRET – which stands for Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy – has developed the software with the aim of helping people, while also building a business that can sell to international clients.

Having crafted their software in the past nine months with the help of local psychiatrists and psychologists, they are now testing the product at a private hospital in Mostar, which they hope to complete within the next two months.

Then they hope to raise income selling it to clinics and hospitals domestically and abroad.

Iva Djikic, 26, the project manager, told BIRN that the group identified early on that virtual reality was an area in which prices are expected to rise quickly in the coming years.

The group also had in mind that they would like to help people suffering from stress including PTSD, which affects a large portion of the Bosnian population since the war of 1992 to 1995.

Virtual reality treatments including the technique called exposure therapy have been used since the 1990s in the US and California to help relieve stress, but the high cost of hardware and limits of technology made it something of a niche.

Today, with lower-cost devices on the market, including PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR – all of which Djikic said are compatible with the group’s software – interest in the medical community in treating stress with virtual reality has risen.

The Mostar programmers’ first piece of software will not address PTSD but other anxiety problems including phobias, offering a calming environment of 3D views and sounds.

“Treating PTSD takes long and hard medical research, but in the future it’s a possibility for us,” said Djikic.

There is increasing anecdotal evidence that tech is a fast-growing field for young people in Bosnia, since youth unemployment rates are regularly estimated at more than 55 per cent while programming is a skill for which location does not matter.

It also allows local businesses to target international buyers, as well as selling in Bosnia where purchasing power is lower.

Andrej Vasilj, 21, VRET’s chief technological officer, said Bosnians were increasingly learning to code on their own initiative since unemployment is high, and “they don’t have another way”.

“The point here in Bosnia is not that faculties are teaching people about software development. You get the basic stuff at university, but the point is that for advanced stuff you have to teach yourself,” said Vasilj.

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Petros Stathis

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