As an aspiring physician, I have dedicated my studies to exploring the many external and interconnecting factors which can influence an individual’s wellbeing. Because I hope to understand and appreciate these forces in order to best care for my future patients, I specifically chose to focus my undergraduate degree on exploring the impacts bioengineering, policy, and community factors play in healthcare. Furthermore, I choose to continue my studies with the HSE masters program in order to better understand how complex healthcare systems can impact quality, efficiency, and access in patient care.
I believe that the Global Social Impact Fellowship will therefore be the perfect complement to all of these interests. Specifically, not only has my recent work on the sickle cell anemia test strip combined my bioengineering research and global health interests, but the implementation of this device into healthcare systems in Sierra Leone will also allow me to apply my HSE studies. For example, as the sickle cell anemia test strip continues to develop, my group will need to start discussing some of the considerations for introducing the product, such as looking at delivery and finances. As I am currently taking HSE classes in financial management, optimization modeling, and information technology, I hope that not only will my courses allow me to better the project, but the application of these topics into a low-cost, limited-resource setting abroad will also allow me to expand my learning. In this way, I believe this fellowship will be a perfect addition to my aspirations, interests, and education.
Eyeglass Access Case Study: The WHO estimates that over one billion people who need eyeglasses do not have access to them. The vast majority of these people live in developing countries like Kenya where there is barely one optometrist per one million people. Given the high poverty levels, access to eyeglasses is almost non-existent. Lack of proper eyeglasses severely impacts people and their livelihoods by decreasing their productivity at work, limiting or eliminating new opportunities, affecting their quality of life, deteriorating their general health and possibly leading to preventable blindness. What solution do you propose to address this problem?
I believe that the greatest challenge when trying to address the problem of eyeglass access in developing countries is with creating a long-term, economically and socially sustainable solution. In other words, the goal of the project should be to fix the underlying causes (such as high poverty levels), which are preventing individuals from getting the education needed to become optometrists, and others from having the money to get the medical attention they need.
With these long-term goals in mind, I think a good starting point would be to employ locals: training some individuals on conducting basic eye exams, and employing others for distributing and selling basic eyeglasses. By empowering individuals with the tools to run their own business, and providing the supplies at a low cost, not only will members of the community have access to cheap glasses, but the individuals dispensing them will also have a meaningful source of income. Additionally, since a lack of eyeglasses can limit work opportunities, this model could theoretically also help others gain valuable employment indirectly.
Although this solution would not “fix” the problem, or address the shortage of optometrist, it could significantly improve the lives of many, and move the community in the right direction. Additionally, if many individuals are able to access these basic eyeglasses, fewer people will need to utilize optometrists for help, therefore allowing a greater proportion of people who need optometrist care for more serious concerns to access it. Furthermore, the increase in employment could hopefully allow more individuals to get educated, and therefore possibly increase the number of optometrists in the future. In this way, by providing tools for individuals in the community to start addressing the problem (i.e. training in basic eye exams and supplying with low-cost, simple glasses to sell and distribute), the problem of eyeglass access can start to be addressed, while also working towards a greater, long-term solution.