University of Cambridge students are teaming up with a mobile health organisation in Bangladesh to pilot a fingerprint identification service which could have implications for global health, microfinance and fighting corruption.
Cambridge students, including three Gates Cambridge Scholars, have developed the new technology called SimPrints with colleagues from the Royal Holloway, University of London.
It is a Bluetooth-enabled fingerprint scanner that instantly connects an individual’s fingerprint to their medical records.
SimPrints will be working with mPower Social Enterprises Ltd, an information and communication technologies for development organisation, on the pilot health scheme.
In Bangladesh there is one doctor for every 3,500 people. In rural areas, the ratio is often worse due to high physician absenteeism. To address the lack of doctors, mPower developed a mobile-based healthcare platform that enables rural patients to receive treatment and advice from doctors in the city.
The Amader Daktar (Bengali for Our Doctor) app allows the registration of a patient, direct consultation with a call centre doctor by voice or video, and receipt of a signed prescription at a rural pharmacy.
The pilot was launched in May with five rural pharmacies in northern Bangladesh. In two weeks, 475 patients have been registered and 165 consultations conducted.
One of the major services mPower is trying to provide is continuity of care, which requires electronic medical records to be linked to patients through an identification mechanism.
They are currently addressing this issue by printing a unique QR coded card for every patient, but patients often leave the card at home and must go back for it or, worse, lose it – in which case they have to reregister. Both scenarios present a delay in service and complications in matching existing records to new ones.
This is where SimPrints comes in. It enables instantaneous access to critical information necessary to provide care. mPower hopes to collaborate with SimPrints to roll the system out to 50 pharmacies at the end of September.
Gates Cambridge Scholar Daniel Storisteanu says: “mPower is an ideal place to pilot for many reasons. They started similarly to us, as a student initiative, and have since grown to become a very important player in Bangladesh's development sector.
“They have a great track record of getting things done, and are intimately familiar with the contexts in which our technology will be applied. They are excited about the potential of SimPrints and are keen to mentor and help develop with us.”
mPower, which develops technology solutions to meet challenges in health, agriculture and poverty alleviation, was borne out of a Harvard-MIT student initiative in 2008 and has since grown to 70+ employees, building digital data tools for Johns Hopkins University's Global mHealth Initiative, BRAC, USAID and DFID among others.
SimPrints formed its partnership with mPower while field testing their first generation scanner in Bangladesh in May. From the chaotic streets of the capital Dhaka to the tranquil fields of rural Gaibandha, a team of five SimPrints co-founders demonstrated prototypes and hashed out ideas with CEOs and health managers of numerous social enterprises and NGOs, and conducted focus groups and interviews with frontline health workers and patients.
SimPrints also strengthened their relationship with BRAC, the world's largest development NGO, who travelled with the team through some of the underserved communities that SimPrints hopes their technology will soon help.
The trip was funded by numerous grants including the UK government innovation agency's Technology Strategy Board grant, considered one of the most prestigious sources of funding for early stage startups.
The system will be able to seamlessly integrate with many pre-existing development tools to allow them to overcome identification challenges. SimPrints sees potential for the technology in many health initiatives, such as improving drug adherence and antenatal care programmes.
Its applications also extend to other development initiatives, such as in microfinance and fighting corruption.
Storisteanu says: “At this point, the collaboration with mPower stands as a major milestone in SimPrints' ambitions to improve service delivery by tackling the identification challenge.”
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