Bringing the hospital home

A low-cost health kit developed by Madurai engineer M Senthil Kumar is a constant companion forpregnant women in interior villages, helping them deliver healthy babies

September 21, 2019 01:06 pm | Updated 01:06 pm IST - MADURAI:

In interior villages of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka, many pregnant women wear a necklace or a bracelet that looks like it’s made of rudraksha beads. But this is not just a piece of jewellery. It is actually a health tracking device that monitors their heart beat, blood pressure, glucose levels, metabolic rate, and sleep cycles.

The smart digital wearable has a battery life of a year and operates on cloud-enabled monitoring system and is synced with a smart phone. It uploads data to the cloud immediately if there is internet connectivity or stores it on the mobile device. “The woman just has to wear the necklace or bracelet and click a button on the phone and data is there for her to see and the doctor as well, sitting far away in a clinic,” says city-based M Senthil Kumar who has Designed the device and ran a successful pilot project with his team in two dozen villages between Ooty in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala. The project covered 1,400 pregnant women between April 2017 and December 2018.

Senthil can’t forget the day he held a baby boy weighing 3.1 kilograms born to a tribal woman in Wayanad early last year. “It was the first time in many decades that a woman there had delivered a healthy baby and they were all so happy,” he says. “When I reached the village, I saw women and men singing and dancing and holding the baby, feeling its healthy weight,” he says.

“People in our rural areas continue to struggle for access to basic healthcare. It may be due to lack of awareness, facility or distance; women fail to have regular antenatal check-ups,” says Senthil. “The problem is bigger than we imagine as we found so many women malnourished and delivering under-weight babies under trying circumstances,” he adds.

The non-invasive device introduced through his start-up JioVio Healthcare is now proving effective in monitoring a pregnant woman’s vital parameters and also providing them reminders to take their prenatal supplements, eat on time and keep themselves hydrated. Through tie-ups with local NGOs, they are also given timely care. “The device is now used by new mothers, new-borns, and elderly women as well,” he says.

The Engineering graduate, who took up a corporate job in Bengaluru almost a decade ago, happened to visit Madurai when his sister got pregnant in 2016. “She was living with her in-laws in the outskirts of the city and would panic at every little thing, call my mother and take the entire family with her to a city hospital for check-up. I needed to resolve this convoluted process and her anxieties,” he says.

So Senthil came up with a simple idea. He met the gynaecologist and asked her about the vital parameters that need to be tracked. Next, he bought blood pressure and blood glucose measuring devices and replaced their display screens with a bluechip that would SMS his sister’s readings to the doctor who would then evaluate them and message her back, and also remind her to take the prescribed medicines, supplements, and agood diet.

This simple intervention saved his sister and family from multiple anxious visits to the hospital. “She was my first experiment and after her positive pregnancy experience, it struck me how I could help many more women who had no access to healthcare facilities,” he says and named the innovative device Save Mom.

Senthil quit his job and launched JioVio Healthcare start-up in February 2017 in Madurai. As he started reading up on maternal health care and visiting villages, he found how gender biases played a role in restricting women from seeking timely healthcare.

“The best way to help them was to bring the hospital to them,” he says and first developed a home-brewed smartwatch for the pilot project. “Soon I realised some women were shy to wear a watch and men at home took it away thinking it was something fancy they should be wearing, and also the phone had to be near the woman always, which was not the case in every home,” he says.

He decided to use technology to address social and cultural constraints and introduced a Bluetooth-enabled necklace that could monitor foetal heart rate and track the expecting mother’s daily activities such as steps taken, sleep pattern, calories burnt, nutrition intake, blood pressure, haemoglobin, blood sugar, weight, calories burnt, temperature and synced it with a martphone. While the chip goes into one main big bead, the other beads are fitted with battery.

While the software is developed by Senthil and his team, the data is constantly monitored using AI for segregating women based on their risk levels. When a women is detected as high risk, her data is immediately sent to the nearest health centre and she is called there for a check-up.

With seed funding of ₹16 lakhs, Senthil’s growing team of coders, innovators and software engineers have reached out to hundreds of women through local NGOs and Primary Health Centres and tied up with the Government’s monetary assistance schemes. He has also developed a kit with a tablet that can be used by health care workers for checking and uploading data of 60 pregnant women.

“The idea is for Save Mom to partner with local governments and agencies and take the portable healthcare kits to remote villages,” he says.“Technology can fill gaps in healthcare.”

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