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Using technology to combat chronic diseases in India’s slums

Slums of New Delhi seen from Tughlaqabad Fort, India

By HALEY CASE

Published May 5, 2017

“The issue of chronic diseases in the slums is a vicious cycle and it is something that needs to be addressed. I think my idea can truly work to help solve this problem. ”
Abhinav Khare, master's student
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

Imagine having a platform to present an idea that could solve one of the major challenges facing the world. Now imagine having the opportunity to do so in front of influential people who have the money and resources to make your idea a reality.

That’s the opportunity Abhinav Khare, a master’s student in UB’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will have when he visits the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next week to present his idea to fight chronic diseases in the slums of India.

Khare is taking part in MIT’s SOLVE initiative, which aims to tackle global challenges by connecting problem-solvers with entrepreneurs, technologists and policymakers from across the globe.

“What’s great about this initiative is that anyone can participate and get their ideas heard,” he says.

Khare’s idea involves using remote patient care to provide more convenient access to health care for those often unable to get the help they need. In many impoverished countries, people suffering from chronic diseases receive infrequent testing and treatment. The problem is exacerbated when they are unwilling or, in most cases unable, to give up a day’s work and wages to travel long distances to see a doctor.

Khare personally has seen this with his father, who suffers from borderline Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

His solution is to bring health care directly to patients, making it more accessible so they receive more frequent treatment.

His plan is to build health centers, or “SMART centers,” in or near slums, where medical equipment would be housed so it is more accessible to patients. The equipment would be automated and need only minimal human supervision to operate — ideally residents of the slums would be employed and trained to work in the SMART centers, Khare says. Test results would be sent to a doctor working remotely who would provide care and treatment options to patients.

To convince patients to visit the centers, Khare would provide incentives, such as food and medicine coupons, that would alleviate lost wages.

He relied on his engineering background to develop a sustainable and affordable way to power the SMART centers, with patients exercising — riding a stationary bicycle or running on a treadmill — to generate mechanical energy that would be converted into electricity.

And Khare gets even more creative with his idea for subsidizing the SMART centers: Human waste would be collected throughout the slums and brought to the center to be converted into fertilizer and sold as a commercial product.

His proposal for the SMART centers involves a lot of working parts, but Khare is confident that with the right resources and support, it can all come together to help address chronic diseases in the slums of India.

“In general, this plan should be able to work because it combines an opportunity to give the people in the slums both what they desire and what they need so they will actually be benefitting in this ecosystem,” he says. “The most important thing for a man in a slum is that he gets two meals daily and that he gets consistent employment to provide for his family. We are giving him that, as well as an accessible way to stay healthy and manage the chronic diseases he has to deal with.”

After first submitting his idea to the SOLVE website, Khare was invited to pitch his idea in March in New York City before a panel at the United Nations that included UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed and other world leaders.

While there, he spent time networking with the SOLVE judges, as well as other presenters. Among event participants, Khare is in the minority as a student; most hold such job titles as CEO, co-founder and director.

“I was definitely a bit nervous at first, as a student competing against these impressive professionals. I just couldn’t believe I was there, but I also wanted to take advantage of the amazing opportunity I had in front of me,” Khare says. “It was amazing getting to talk to and hear from these powerful influencers that are as equally passionate about solving some of the world’s problems as I am. It was a truly surreal experience for me.”

Khare impressed the judges enough to be invited to SOLVE’s flagship event May 8-10 at MIT to present his idea in front of leaders from corporations, foundations, nonprofits, government, academia and the media.

“The SOLVE event is essentially like a marketplace, bringing together people with ideas and groups that are interested in using their financial and technological means to help implement these ideas,” he says. “I am very interested in doing whatever it takes to make this project work, whether it’s starting my own company, bringing together various technological companies that already exist, or even working with the Indian government. I’m open to anything.”

Featured speakers at the SOLVE event include former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. It also will feature panel discussions and challenge workshops.

“The issue of chronic diseases in the slums is a vicious cycle and it is something that needs to be addressed,” Khare says. “I think my idea can truly work to help solve this problem. I really hope to get it implemented so I can start to help people and make some real change in the world.”

READER COMMENT

Great idea that serves a noble cause. Wishing you all success!

 

Vivek Vasan