01/31 Spencer Moros

Blog #2

1. Give three compelling examples of how cultural issues affect your project.

One example which affects my project is gender in Sierra Leone. In the country there is a clear distinction between men and women and what can be expected from them. The most prevalent form of medical professionals are Community Health Workers (CHWs) which work in undersupplied outposts. Most of these volunteers are male which poses a clear conflict for women. Many of the women don’t feel comfortable in telling these men about potential symptoms which may be a result of a UTI. Therefore if a culture of silence persists because of gender the women will be unable to utilize our test strips and therefore unable to receive the proper medical care.

Another example is the concept of time in Sierra Leone. Western culture observes very strict adherence to punctuality. A common phrase is “5 Minutes early is on time, on time is late. Late is unacceptable.” This way of thinking is not observed in Sierra Leone. A potential problem is scheduling meetings while in the country. Due to this it is important that our team remains flexible and has alternative plans if the schedule is to change in order to avoid wasting precious time.

Lastly, many people in Sierra Leone practice traditional medicine. This form of medicine relies on the use of herbs and other rituals. Although this could be used in conjunction with Western medicine, the use of traditional medicine in place of Western medicine could prove harmful. In order to navigate this particularly difficult area we must negotiate with the patients to gain their trust.

2. Have you experienced or observed any of these social situations at home? Describe at least three such situations.

I have personally observed the first example of gender roles posing clear roadblocks to medical care. I am not only an EMT but I have done an internship under the supervision of a OBGYN. In both cases it is extremely difficult for the patients to describe their symptoms in their entirety and with comfort. This results in less effective medical interventions which may not even be addressing the underlying ailment.

Additionally, I have encountered situations where religion has prevented me from rendering medical care. One case I had a patient who when asked if she had any religious observations which may change the plan of care she stated she was a Wiccan. Although at first I did not know what that meant I probed her further and she told me it was a modern form of Pagan witchcraft. Throughout the experience I had to maintain my composure although many of her beliefs I was confused and somewhat shocked by. Regardless I changed my plan of care accordingly and attempt to persuade her to allow me to conduct the typical medical interventions that her condition called for.

Lastly, time is something I have struggled with myself. When I went to Germany as part of an exchange program I had no idea how much earlier was considered “on time.” When I was told to be ready at 1200 and I was still getting ready at 1130 my host family was flabbergasted. However, I successfully shifted my schedule to follow their lead.

3. Give three examples of cultural practices that can be leveraged to addressed community / market problems.

One cultural practice is that of the social hierarchy in Sierra Leone. If we are able to successfully sway an individual who is held in a high regard this can prove very helpful since others are likely to listen to what he/she has to say. This is currently in place with our on-the-ground asset Hassan, however we could achieve even more by getting someone of even higher regard on our side.

Similarly the tendency of many people of Sierra Leone to form very tight knit communities could further strength the group mentality which will further progress the reputation of the test strips by word of mouth.

Lastly, we are able to leverage the cultural practice of many CHWs being volunteer. Although they do this work out of their love for those in their community fiscal incentives would prove even more effective. A possible form of this is a stipend for being trained or a potential profit to be made off of the test strips. Even though theoretically a CHW could abuse this system and overcharge or over distribute the strips they are not likely to do this since as I mentioned before the communities are very close and these volunteers are working to better their community rather than make a living.

01/24 Spencer Moros

Blog #1 

Why did you enroll in this course (motivation, prior interests)?

Doing good work does not ensure the work is impactful. I have already done plenty of good work for the betterment of health. However, these projects only result in posters and publications, which are important, but they do not directly benefit anyone. I crave something with a larger, more tangible impact outside of the frequently secluded universe of academia. I want to work on a project that I believe is working towards a more grandiose goal and one which has a force pushing towards this goal with real world deliverables. Ukweli satisfies this craving for me with its goal of ending maternal mortality. Also, I enjoy learning new skills and being thrown into the fray. This project gives countless opportunities for me to learn about things which I have zero experience. I am slightly concerned, but also excited to learn about systems engineering, marketing, and other business aspects of the project. Also, even though I am standing on the shoulders of giants I hope to make significant progress in advancing the project to expand into other countries and continue to improve the systems which are in place.

How do you envision this course making you a better () student?

I envision this will make me a better student by breaking down the walls of the box that years of education has built around me. This freedom will allow me to approach every problem from now on with a new, broader perspective. Challenges which one seemed impossible will be possible for me. Even though most of college is self-driven, this project takes this up a notch and has real world implications if I don’t complete the task and it does not matter the amount of effort I put in because in the end the task is still left incomplete. This will help me continue to improve my time management and become acclimated to real world pressure. My hope is that this project and the learning curve that comes with it will help me improve my resilience. In the past, I have dedicated myself to solving difficult problems, but I always had the comfort of being able to find the answer and work backwards if I got stuck. This project has no answer key and there are infinite ways to achieve a goal and the only way to find out if it’s a good plan is to put it into action. Another thing which I think this project will improve is my teamwork with people from very different backgrounds. Since I am encountering most of what I am doing for the first time asking for help is essential. Lastly, I believe this course will make me a better student through the connections I make with professors and other individuals who I normally would not have contact with.

The World Health Organization 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 nonexistent. 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?

The solution to this problem was developed a few years back by Josh Silver who invented a pair of plastic glasses with lenses that consist of a thin membrane which contains water instead of a lens which must be ground to specific specifications. Using the magnifying capabilities of water they function as a normal pair of glasses would. Due to the materials these glasses are a fraction of the price of normal glasses and since each pair is the same and only requires an adjustment of the amount of water which is present in the lenses they can be mass produced on a massive scale. Additionally, this solution also addresses the problem of the lack of trained specialists and proper medical facilities. These glasses are inherently able to be adjusted by any layperson. In contrast to normal glasses which cannot be easily altered and requires special tools to find the correct prescription, these glasses are much more simple. They only require a screwdriver and a syringe and there is no need to have one’s eyesight measured because water is just added or removed until the wearer sees the most clearly. In order to make this product more sustainable the factories should be located in country. Due to the low technical requirements to produce them all that is needed is electricity and water. This also presents an opportunity for employment of locals, making buying the glasses without relying on donations possible. Additionally, providing employment will increase the standard of living, thereby improving many other factors of life as well such as housing, food, and medical treatment. In order to jumpstart this an initial fund must be generated to construct the factory and provide the raw materials needed to make the glasses. The glasses can be sold anywhere and help generate income while also improving the quality of life of many.