By Runam Mehta
In the last few years, India has made encouraging improvements in the arena of maternal and newborn healthcare. In the year 2015, the Infant Mortality Rate per 1000 live births was 37 which came down to 30 in 2019. While these are still very high numbers, in many parts of the country the situation is even worse than the national average. For instance, the IMR in many large states such as UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Assam, and Chhattisgarh is over 40. Similarly, when we look at the Maternal Mortality Rate, the national average is 8.1, but it is in double digits in all the above states and more than 20 in Uttar Pradesh. These are large states, and even within them there are bound to be remote and rural districts where the condition is even more challenging than the state average.1 Evidently, these are low-resource regions where we need to augment human efforts with innovative health tech to improve coverage and outcomes.
One of the biggest reasons why India continues to lose so many precious lives to avoidable causes is the lack of access to healthcare and diagnostics. When we evaluate the scenario for the states mentioned above, it is not difficult to find that there are very few medical and diagnostic facilities available in rural areas. People need to travel several kilometers for quality treatment or accurate diagnostic support. Building conventional infrastructure and adequate numbers of doctors and a trained healthcare workforce to effectively fulfill the needs of the 1.4 billion Indians would take decades of effort and consistently high investments. The best and fastest alternative is to integrate innovative healthcare technologies for improving maternal and newborn health in these low-resource regions.
Need to provide diagnostic coverage to underserved regions
POC diagnostics services facilitate a diversity of medical tests to be conducted in the vicinity of the patient such as village or colony levels, and even though door-to-door testing, doesn’t require conventional laboratory apparatus or qualified technicians. These services are simple, fast, and highly affordable and can perfectly complement the needs of rural India where most of the healthcare expenditure must be met out-of-pocket by the patients or their family members. The POC testing can help in diagnosing various health issues such as infections, anemia, diabetes, hypertension, etc., and timely detection of such issues can prevent complications in maternal and neonatal health.
POC diagnostics initiatives are run using simple, handheld devices which are portable, lightweight, and can run on batteries. Nowadays, such AI-integrated devices are being built in India by health-tech innovators by combining cloud, data analytics, advanced sensors, and mobile communication technologies. A high-quality device won’t even rely on the internet to operate as it will have an in-built data storage facility and the data can be shared with doctors once the connectivity resumes. They can help identify high-risk pregnancies early on, allowing healthcare providers to provide appropriate interventions and referrals to hospitals or intensive care facilities as per need. One of the most effective use cases is the running of POC tests for blood pressure and protein in the urine. These tests can help in identifying preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects several pregnancies in India. Early-stage diagnostic and prompt treatment of preeclampsia and other such challenges can save many lives and ensure good health for mothers and newborn babies.
Not only that, by providing basic training around using these devices to rural healthcare workers and even the unemployed educated youth, it is possible to diagnose and manage complications during labor and delivery. For instance, blood glucose testing can be used to identify and manage gestational diabetes. Not only that, timely detection of infections can help in preventing maternal as well as neonatal sepsis, which is one of the major causes of MMR and IMR. Such a system would ensure that every village has personnel available to carry out such fundamental screenings, and the youth who operate the devices can also use them to generate income as social entrepreneurs. Thus, we will not only be saving lives but also improving them for others by providing a sustainable and respectable income opportunity.
Health-tech innovations have proven to be extremely effective in India during the recent pandemic. With more than 60% of the patients getting treated at home through remote care and POC diagnostics; hence, there is no reason why we should not expand the coverage to mothers and infants in the underserved parts of this country. It is bringing hope as the government is encouraging to adapt of such POC diagnostic devices and services as part of the rural healthcare regime, making healthcare accessible to the remotest corners of the country with affordability. These technologies would not only save the lives of mothers and children but also bring about a positive and sustainable change in the healthcare ecosystem in rural India.
(The author is the CEO, HealthCube. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)