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Cloud brings healthcare into the classroom for India’s impoverished kids

The children stand in line. One by one, their height, weight, gender, blood pressure, pulse, temperature and other physical details are recorded along with answers about their health history, home life, and diet. They are being given a comprehensive medical checkup. But this not in a clinic or a hospital, it is a classroom. And their teachers – not a doctor or a nurse – are doing the examining. They have no formal medical training. But they do have a smartphone app invented by a young doctor who is determined to bring badly needed healthcare to millions of kids across her homeland, India.

Dr, Meghana Kambham wants to help children and transform the attitudes of parents

This country has only one pediatrician for every 3,000 children. And, easily preventable diseases are rife among its comparatively young population, simply because they are not being screened. Few parents understand the value of regular health examinations and seek medical help only after their children fall ill.

“In med school, I saw a lot of problems that got complicated because of a lack of preventive health care,” says Dr. Meghana Kambham (pictured left), who is based in the tech-hub city of Hyderabad. “When I look at a child who has a disease that could have been prevented, it feels like a chance lost. The answer to this is technology.” By harnessing the power of the cloud, she has created “Care N Grow” – an app that empowers teachers, and others with no background in healthcare, to conduct regularly scheduled head-to-toe examinations of children.

The app uses biomedical sensing and imaging technologies and builds up profiles with answers to some basic lifestyle and health questions. An algorithm analyzes the data collected on each child and produces a clinical-grade individual health report card. If the system identifies a problem, the database provides recommendations for the best course of action and the child’s parents are notified.

“A majority of parents in India are in a state of denial and are often ignorant about their child’s health status,” she says. “Children are stakeholders who have no say. Adults are not doing what is good for them. Unless the child is sick, no intervention – let alone pediatric help – is sought. Neither schools nor parents think preventive care is important. This is currently the prevailing attitude.”

This is made worse, she says, by government authorities who spend little on medical services, making “India’s healthcare system primarily a ‘sick-care system’.”  

Right now, an estimated 350 million students in India do not have regular preventative health care and wellness exams. She wants policymakers – who are often focused on the pursuit of economic growth – to re-evaluate their priorities. “As (assassinated US presidential candidate) Robert Kennedy once said ‘… the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children … It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile’. ”

Simple to use, Dr. Kambham’s solution is on the verge of hitting the big time. It has just been granted a patent pending status with the support of Microsoft’s #MakeWhatsNext program for women inventors who develop problem-solving solutions around the world. The Care N Grow app is to be launched formally in November. 

Earlier this year proof-of-concept trials yielded strong results across 11 schools in three cities – Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru.

Of the 6,000 children screened during the trials, 900 were found to have had preventable health conditions. Forty percent had malnutrition, 20 percent eye problems, and 10 percent obesity. Other cases included stunted growth, type 1 diabetes, hypertension, hearing loss, skin diseases, and even hair lice. Some were found with the learning disability, dysgraphia. During the next year or so, Dr. Kambham expects to deploy the Care N Grow across 1,200 schools targeting about 500,000 students in the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. And, there are plans to double that number later. Her aim is to make the app operational across the whole of India with a matter of years so the health of millions more children can be monitored. “We are truly motivated when we see real positive transformation and change in impoverished peoples’ daily lives.“

Once processes and practices are established, it could then be adapted and exported to neighboring China and Southeast Asia, and eventually across the world – wherever there are poor doctor-patient ratios.

Because teachers, not medical staff, do the screenings, “our solution is scalable. This is why technology is the solution to solving this social problem. Otherwise it would just be an utopian dream.”

Read more about the #MakeWhatsNext program here.

ALSO: Microsoft Asia is launching Digigirlz School Connect, an initiative that brings women working at Microsoft and its partners to high schools to encourage 14-17 year olds to explore careers in the technology sector. This program is part of our broader efforts to inspire girls to continue to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through our grants to nonprofit organizations that train youth on computer science.