Health Buddy

Fulbright-Nehru Student Researcher Hannah Lider focused on defining the challenges of current hemoglobin measuring devices and designing a data storage bangle for effective antenatal care in India’s rural areas.

By Natasa Milas

March 2020

Health Buddy

Hannah Lider worked on Swasthya Sakhi, an app-based platform and wearable data storage bangle, which is embedded with a QR code to identify each patient and provide a physical link to medical records. Photograph courtesy Dr. Monalisa Padhee

Anemia is a huge public health concern in India, where a majority of Indians of all ages and both sexes are anemic, according to a research paper published by the Nutrition Foundation of India in 2018. Anemia is a condition in which a person has a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells or quantity of hemoglobin, which reduces the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen and can lead to a number of health problems. Low hemoglobin levels lower productivity, cause illness and, at times, even death. Timely interventions can help both prevent and treat anemia. But such interventions can only be prescribed when health workers are equipped to make accurate and efficient diagnoses.

Hannah Lider, who participated in the Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Program in 2018-19, joined the Women Wellness Initiative team at Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, to define the challenges of current hemoglobin measuring devices and design an efficient, low-cost solution suitable for use in rural mobile clinics. “I designed and conducted a comparative analysis of six point-of-care hemoglobin measurement devices to determine suitability for use in remote clinical settings. I also coordinated capacity building for a team of community health workers to perform data collection in nine rural schools,” says Lider. “Since returning to the U.S., I am conducting data analysis on the results of 1,200 participants and preparing reports of the results in English and Hindi.”

Lider, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and two certificates—in South Asian studies and international engineering—became interested in health care issues in India during the spring of her sophomore year, via an internship supported by the S.N. Bose Scholars Program. This student exchange program between institutions in India and the United States is a partnership between the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, the Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology, and others.

“I am an engineer trained to innovate, create, design and develop things,” says Lider. After an extensive literature review, along with months of observations, her project became about conducting a comparative analysis of popular hemoglobin measurement devices already being used in rural clinics. “There are so many products already out there in the market that are accessible to rural clinics, like that at Barefoot College,” she adds. “These devices use various detection principles. Some are digital, some are not. Some are more complicated to use than others. Some are costly, some are cheap. Most concerning, though, is that the actual test results of these devices are not consistent with one another.”

Lider was also involved in the Swasthya Sakhi, or “Health Buddy,” project. “This was a project I conceptualized with my Fulbright mentor, Dr. Monalisa Padhee, who is the program head of women’s wellness at Barefoot College. Swasthya Sakhi was our idea of a bangle that women would wear, which stores their health information and medical history. The program would be focused on women’s health before and during pregnancy,” says Lider. “The idea is very similar to the Khushi Baby platform, a wearable necklace pendant which stores a child’s vaccination records. Two colleagues from Barefoot College and I met with the Khushi Baby team at their headquarters in Udaipur to discuss our ideas and how our teams might be able to work collaboratively.”

Lider’s knowledge of Hindi, which she studied at University of Wisconsin-Madison and as a Critical Language Scholarship Program participant in India, greatly facilitated her work. For example, it helped her communicate with the local staff at Barefoot College, many of whom did not speak English proficiently, and members of the medical department, where only two out of the around 20 staff members spoke English. “Being able to speak Hindi was crucial to my being able to form relationships and build trust with my coworkers, fully comprehend observations in the field and interact with patients,” says Lider. “I even used my ability to write in Hindi to document my notes, my findings, write up reports for the local staff to keep and reference. Overall, I probably used Hindi to accomplish 80 percent of my daily tasks while I was completing my Fulbright Fellowship in India.”

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.



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