As seen on NPR.org
By: Nsikan Akpan
Meet Vikram. He’s that cute baby in the picture above. Now, take a closer look at his neckwear.
It’s traditional for newborns in northern India to wear a black thread necklace as a symbol of good health and good fortune, but Vikram’s got a high-tech version. The round pendant on the string is a wearable device called Khushi Baby that carries his vaccination history inside a computerized chip about the size of a dime.
Khushi Baby was created by undergrads at Yale University in spring 2013. The students were taking a class called “Appropriate Technologies for the Developing World.” The assignment: create a gadget for tracking health data in remote environments.
That’s not just a classroom exercise. Parents in India (and many other countries) receive paper health cards to keep track of a child’s vaccine doses, but paper is easily misplaced, says Leen van Besien, who co-developed the idea for Khushi Baby. And there aren’t digital health records to consult. In Rajasthan, where Vikram lives, clinicians write vaccination information by hand in in large paper logbooks as they travel from village to village. Thousands of names are kept in the books, making it hard to search through when a vaccine card is misplaced.
A lost card could prove fatal. India boasts one of lowest vaccine coverage rates in the world, in part because kids fall off their vaccine schedules. For example last year, 7 million children did not receive all three doses for pertussis, also known as whooping cough). As a result, India recorded more cases of this life-threatening disease — 31, 000 — than any other nation.
To keep costs low, the team used inexpensive computer chips that can communicate with smart phones. Each necklace costs $1, while the cheapest compatible smart phone costs $150. The team avoided using metal clasps on the necklace, which can fall off and be a choking hazard. So the necklace just slips over the head. The plastic pendant, which encases the computer chip, is waterproof.
During a trip to villages in Rajasthan this summer, the team partnered with Seva Mandir, a grassroots NGO that helps distribute government-provided vaccines in remote regions.
“Tracking health data on paper is cumbersome and expensive, with threats of mistakes. We are hoping that the Khushi Baby project will resolve these problems,” Priyanka Singh, CEO of Seva Mandir.
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $25,000, Khushi Baby will roll out a pilot project in 2015, providing necklaces to the 4,000 kids vaccinated by Seva Mandir health workers each year. The project also won Yale’s 2014 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health, a $25,000 cash award.
The clinicians will have the smartphone app so they can record the innoculations and upload the info to Seva Mandir computers. That way it’ll be easier to track kids who missed a dose — and to know how many vaccines are needed for the next trip.
Those outside of India can also buy in. While the Kickstarter campaign is going on, a $25 contribution will not only sponsor a necklace for a child in Rajasthan but get you a necklace, too. Via the Khushi app, your smart phone will get an alert when the baby gets a vaccine.