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Student team tackles diabetes prevention in India

India Lab’s project may improve screening

By Amy MacMillan Bankson  |  June 17, 2016

2016-Indialab2

The India Lab team

According to the National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is growing rapidly in India, where an estimated 62 million people have the disease. Type 2 diabetes, which can develop at any age, is a condition that can be better managed if diagnosed early.

Last spring, a group of MIT Sloan students participated in an India Lab action learning project with the Jodhpur School of Public Health in Jodhpur, India. Team members Jackie Atlas, Jessica Lu, Peter Steele, and Aly Eltayeb, all MBA ’17, and Shahan Bhaidani, MBA ’16, worked with the school on a pilot project for diabetes screening.

The project, which modeled the potential financial and patient benefits that would result from diabetes screening and early intervention, was MIT Sloan’s first action learning project with the Jodhpur School of Public Health.

“The biggest challenge that Jodhpur School of Public Health has in trying to alleviate this health issue is changing the mindset of people about public health and preventive care,” said Lu. “Specifically with Type 2 diabetes, it is important to build awareness and education prior to any symptoms appearing.”

Lu, who has a background in pharmaceuticals and biomedical engineering, recently discussed the experience:

What was the project with the Jodhpur School of Public Health?

Our project was to help the school with its mobile health program, partnering with ClickMedix, to screen for diabetes in India, starting in the state of Rajasthan. This project focused on the implications of early screening and diagnosis of diabetes.

The project is a pilot, with an initial rollout to 20,000 people. As Jodhpur School of Public Health is working to determine the best model, and setting goals for its three-year project, our India Lab team quantitatively assessed both the potential patient impact and financial impact on the health care system by implementing a proactive diabetes prevention system. Through primary and secondary research, we were able to project how many pre-diabetic and diagnosed diabetic people could benefit from early intervention. Our evaluation will enable Jodhpur School of Public Health to benchmark its success and give the team on the ground an understanding of the results they generate as compared to the government and international health organizations that are approaching diabetes from another angle.

What did ClickMedix, an MIT alumni-founded mobile health technology company, specifically do?

ClickMedix developed the algorithm based on survey screening questions used to identify people as at risk or not at risk for diabetes. The company has launched multiple mobile health programs globally. Mobile health, sometimes known as mHealth, uses mobile phones and technology for medical and health care. With this project, ClickMedix developed a mobile health app to screen for diabetes.

Why is the Jodhpur School of Public Health focused on trying to help Type 2 diabetics? Is this a public health crisis in India?

The organization is focused on Type 2 diabetes because it has high potential to be an epidemic there. We found that health care in India is very much symptoms-based, and people mostly do not take any preventive care measures for various non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. The Jodhpur School of Public Health also has a large focus on nutrition, which coincides with increasing education and awareness in public health.

2016-indialab Jessica Lu, MBA ’17 and Shahan Bhaidani, MBA ’16, at an Action Learning poster session

After spending some time in India working in this realm, what surprised you?

The conditions of the hospitals surprised me. They were extremely overcrowded, which adds to the concern that the entire health care system in India is overburdened. Focusing on preventive care could lessen this burden on both the system and the patients. However, in both the public and private medical facilities, each doctor we spoke to was very passionate about caring for patients, as well as knowledgeable about preventive care measures and interested in improving the status quo.

What is the benefit of doing an action learning project like India Lab?

The benefits were being able to see a country through a unique perspective and learning about the health care system of a different country. We were able to speak with a great variety of people including patients and nurses in rural villages, community health care workers and doctors, senior private practice and hospital doctors, and government officials at the district, state, and national levels. I also really enjoyed working with my team, developing our team dynamics and leadership skills, and being immersed in the project and Indian culture.