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.
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.