GSIF Post #5 Rohan Ekambaram

I have played music ever since I was young. I started playing the piano when I was 5 and the trombone when I was 12. I believe this creative outlet gave me the ability to think in more creative ways than the average engineer. Intertwining creativity and engineering solutions to problems would be a large part of my design process. I have also found that depriving yourself of resources when trying to solve a problem makes you more creative and can help find ingenious solutions. After you have found that solution, it is usually only a simple task of improving it with the resources. I learned this technique when I taught myself how to play chess. The way to get good with a certain piece is to play someone by only using that piece. Eventually you learn the strategies and begin to think about the smaller picture while never loosing focus on the grand scheme. I know it sounds like a process that does not work because why would anyone work with less resources than are available, but I have seen it do amazing things to some people.

The overarching point of the Ukweli project is to reduce the maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leone by making it easy for people to screen for urinary tract infections. UTI’s are also one of the largest contributors to spontaneous abortions and complications during birth. In the long term, the validation for our product will come from a reduced maternal mortality rate, but such a task is hard to measure in such a short period of time. In the short term, our project will be validated if there is an increase in screenings and referrals to the hospital. Although this does not directly correlate to our goal, it is a good indicator that our test strip is being used and that people are trusting it enough to go to a hospital if the results show positive. In order to validate our technology, we need to develop a system of quality control to show which strips have been affected too much by conditions like humidity, temperature and light. This is the part of the project I am focused on. I have found stickers that change color as these conditions change. I am beginning talks with the supplier in order to begin testing in order to determine if these are viable. Although I have only begun to research this thread, I believe this could be the cheapest option since many pharmaceutical companies in the US use a similar product when they ship vaccines. The usability of the device will be validated when are able to teach the community health workers (CHW’s) how to use the test strip. We designed the strip so that it could be used by people without an enormous amount of medical knowledge. If the CHW’s are able to properly screen and refer people who come to them with symptoms, then we will have succeeded in our goal. Our operational model is something that we have worked on for a while now. The next step in our operational model is to solve the last mile distribution problem. A goal of this project was to make the strips accessible to the more rural areas of Sierra Leone since those areas are much farther away from any hospital or practicing doctor. When we solve this last mile distribution problem we will validate our operational model.

Many people believe that when they volunteer they are educating those around them in the developing nation and I think this is wrong. I think when it come to engaging with communities, partners, and markets in Sierra Leone, they are the ones teaching us. In order to help them solve a problem we have to learn why that problem began and only they can teach us. The underlying cultural significance of something is not an easy thing to pick up. You have to listen to the people of the region and understand their point of view of the world in order to really help them. For example, when working with the communities, you do not want to change their ways just to mirror the US. They have their own culture and that should be respected. By listening to what the community has to say, you can learn a lot about the real problem and then use that to help them. Furthering this thought, I believe that open and honest communication is also extremely important and should be valued just as highly as respect.

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